An Open Letter to the New President

Be quiet and listen. Just listen. The voices of the American people are crying out to you. Some are rejoicing. Some are in anguish, but all have a voice that deserves to be heard. One of the strengths of our great country is that it is a melting pot of diverse backgrounds and heritages. For over 200 years, we have been known as a beacon of opportunity to the world. Your ancestors and mine traveled to this country seeking a better life. And, we all want a better life for our children. So I urge you to please listen. Listen to the voices of every American as she or he tells you what they need to make their lives and the lives of their children better. Some will speak about economic opportunity. Some may voice concerns about the safety of our country and American values. Some may speak of their own personal safety and protecting their civil rights. Some may not be able to speak. Their voices have been systematically suppressed. Even these people, need to be invited to speak and be heard. Every person has a story, and, to lead the United States, it is imperative that you listen to these stories in order to truly understand the people and what they need.

As the American president, you have accepted the responsibility to serve others. You do not have the luxury of selecting whom you serve. You have accepted the task of serving every American and you can learn from the wealth of wisdom of your predecessors. Let their advice guide you.

John Quincy Adams described the makings of a true leader, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Teddy Roosevelt urges the acceptance of criticism, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

Ronald Reagan believed in the value of kindness and generosity, “Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, leave the rest to God.”

Bill Clinton spoke of unity, “We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more.”

Barack Obama summarized the mission of the presidency when he said, “That’s why we serve. Not to score points or to take credit, but to make people’s lives better.”

Opening ourselves to the wisdom of others was the advice of the Jewish sages, “Who is wise? One who learns from every person. Who is mighty? One who subdues his impulses. Who is wealthy? The one who is happy with his portion. Who is honored? The one who honors others.” (Avot 4:1). Judaism recognizes that each person has something of merit to share with others and that we are at our best when we respect and acknowledge the value of every human being.

I implore you to listen. It is amazing what we can learn through our own silence when we realize that our voice is not always the most important one we hear. The American people are counting on you to lead with humility and put their interests first. This is about them, not you. Listen to their voices and respond with grace and kindness, and never lose the sense of gratitude for the profound responsibility with which you have been bestowed.

 

Rabbi Melinda Mersack is the Director of jHUB, which provides new ways for interfaith couples and families to comfortably explore Jewish culture in the modern world, a program of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and an InterfaithFamily affiliate. Rabbi Mersack is proud to be a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow and a Brickner Fellow of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Mersack attends summer camp as visiting faculty every year, and is an advocate for interreligious dialogue and social justice. She holds a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Masters of Hebrew Letters and ordination from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion.

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