Love Letters: Creating a Powerful Connection Alone and Together
March 26, 2019 | Beth Singer, Principal
Two weeks ago, at a women’s retreat sponsored by my synagogue, Temple Rodef Shalom, Cory Amron, attorney and President of Women Lawyers On Guard, and I, designed a potent social action experience for attendees. As a group, we wrote individual letters of support and encouragement to victims of unthinkable events, and also people who are fighting the good fight. We wrote to firefighters in California, to the Tree of Life Synagogue community, to the families of the mosques in New Zealand, to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Parkland families, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and many others who might need to read a kind word.
Particular aspects of “design-thinking” were employed to get this project off the ground. One of the key components in the design-thinking continuum is testing ideas quickly and refining them based on observations. Another key component is drawing collaborators into your circle, especially people whose skills and orientations you don’t have.
At the LOVE LETTERS program, I sat together in a group of women, alone in my thoughts. I wrote my letter to the families of victims of the terror attacks at the New Zealand mosques. I wrote that the whole world weeps for them, and that most of us on the planet abhor violence in the name of bigotry and racism. I shed many tears as I wrote, and I saw that other women around me were crying as they wrote their letters too.
In that moment, we deeply felt the power of our words to give courage, to reassure recipients they are not alone, to keep going, to be tenacious.
To provide a little background, a few years back, we went to a program at the synagogue to prepare Christmas meals for homeless shelters. After the food prep was done, we wandered over to a table with paper, crayons, and pencils, where we wrote letters to military service members. And so we sat, each with our private thoughts, writing to people we didn’t know, thanking them for their service to our country. Each of us alone, but together at the same table.
Observation #1: This intense experience stayed with me for a very long time.
A few years later, we were gifted the book Art is What We Do When We Want to Be Alone Together. It seemed to me such a profound expression and reminded me of our experience at the synagogue. My husband and I thought about that concept as we planned our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah and decided it would be a good fit with her service project. After lunch, our guests were given the opportunity to create gift baskets of home goods for families starting over after fleeing domestic violence. If guests did not want to wrap supplies and utensils, they could write letters of support to the families.
Observation #2: Our guests were incredibly moved by the experience, and they could not stop talking about it.
Fast-forward to today: the news cycles continue to make many of us feel helpless. It’s hard not to feel like a bystander with little control over the future. I turned back to the idea of communal connection through writing, but each individually, in his/her own way. I shared this idea with the my planning committee for the retreat. We named the project LOVE LETTERS, and committed to writing to people who need our support, compassion and encouragement.
I designed special stationery to make it real, with bright pink envelopes, and one of our collaborators bought LOVE stamps. During the program introduction, we read aloud other letters by Bill Clinton and Barak Obama, to understand just how powerful words of encouragement can be.
And then 40 of us wrote letters together though alone. And then we cried, alone and together.
My attorney friend, a passionate social activist, and I, a designer…two unlikely bedfellows, now collaborating to create a cathartic opportunity to express feelings we might not have otherwise, and to lift up recipients around the world with their heartfelt letters.
The project has picked up steam.
After the retreat, I shared the idea with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a nonpartisan organization that mobilizes around federal, state, and local legislation, and has become as hub of social justice work in support of issues such as inclusion, economic equality, the environment, immigration, women's rights, and other important topics consistent with the values of Reform Judaism.
They would like to share the LOVE LETTERS program with synagogues throughout the U.S. And they asked us to give pointers to interested parties on the ins and outs of administering the program.
The potential is enormous for people all over the country, to magnify the positive in a negative world, to be heard, to make a connection, and become a participant instead of a spectator.
Ideas take time to percolate. This one is now simmering, in part, because of the sound principles of design thinking—observation, refinement, and collaboration—that bolstered our vision.
It’s remarkable what we can do alone… and together.