SASSO: An open letter to the incoming vice president

(Indianapolis Business Journal, December 17, 2016)

Dear Vice President-elect Pence:

Congratulations on your election to the vice presidency of the United States of America. As rabbis in the city of Indianapolis, we have had the honor of knowing and collaborating with you frequently over the past decade. We have valued your graciousness and your friendly manner.

It will not surprise you that we have often viewed with concern several of your policies and comments as governor, which, despite their calm and civil tone, have sometimes yielded discrimination and disenfranchisement. As you assume the vice presidency of our country and take the national stage, allow us to add to our congratulations the following pleas.

Please advocate and advance the welfare, rights and privileges of all citizens, residents and visitors, regardless of race, gender identity, religion or ethnicity, within the boundaries of our nation. May your oft-proclaimed identity as “Christian, conservative and Republican” be practiced in the service of your identity as an “American,” the vice president of a diverse nation. Please respect and honor the religious differences and the spectrum of deeply held moral values on women’s rights, reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights. Please always see to it that the Constitution of the United States of America be enshrined above any one community’s scriptures or interpretations thereof.

We ask that you encourage and guide our new president-elect to be discerning in word and in deed, in intention and execution, that he may create a climate of civility, harmony and hope. His campaign and early transition have not always inspired confidence in this regard. We hear daily from Hoosiers who are afraid, who experience intimidation and bullying, who are being told there is only one America and that it is white and Christian. This should be repudiated in no uncertain terms. Children should not be made to feel unsafe because of who they are, because of their race, faith or where they came from.

Please counsel President-elect Trump to build an infrastructure of tolerance and trust so that we might achieve the greatness of the America we love, with freedom, liberty and justice for all. Help him to speak out against the increasing and emboldened acts of hate and vandalism, so our children and grandchildren learn that bullying, disparagement and antagonism are not tolerated in our nation and are not paths to success or models of leadership.

Dear Mr. Pence, you brought a touch of civility and reason to the angry rhetoric of the campaign. But Hoosier hospitality is only true if beneath it lies respect for all people, even those with whom we disagree, and respect for a broad spectrum of truth.

We are emerging from the current electoral season with a sense of mistrust, insecurity and fear, with a sense that America is divided and polarized, that we are no longer “one nation under God.” May the pronouncements, directives and decisions of the newly elected leadership dispel any apprehension that we are entering a period of fractured trust. May the words and deeds of the new administration yield conciliatory purpose and constructive endeavor.

In the spirit of hope of our state’s bicentennial and of the approaching holiday season, we wish you and Mrs. Pence blessings of health and fulfillment in Washington, D.C., as we pray for harmony, goodwill and peace upon America and the world.

Respectfully yours,

Rabbis Dennis and Sandy Sasso•
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The Sassos have served as spiritual leaders of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck since 1977. Sandy Sasso is director of the religion, spirituality and the arts initiative at Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary.