In April of 2006, then-President George W. Bush officially proclaimed the month of May to be National Jewish-American Heritage Month. For many, this was a long time coming, as America Jewish Americans have been making history for nearly 370 years. Every year, a theme is chosen to focus on for the annual celebration, and this year’s theme is “Our Shared Heritage,” inspired by Rabbi Hillel’s comment that “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?” When digging into and celebrating the rich culture and incredible contributions of Jewish people on our nation as a whole, it is easy to to see how much of our entire country has been enriched and blessed by the work of Jewish Americans.
The first Jewish settlers came to this country – twenty-three travelers arrived from Brazil – in 1654, settling permanently in what is now New York City. This marked the beginning of what has become an indelible part of our nation’s history – and the gifts, talents, and treasures from our Jewish brothers and sisters have continued to enhance our everyday lives. From the arts to science (Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Albert Einstein, and Gertrude Elion are just a start), social justice to Supreme Court Justice (Simeon Solomons and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to name a few), we pay tribute to the indelible presence and power of Jewish Americans this month.
But, we mustn’t only honor the Jewish Americans who have become famous for their works and deeds, for the contributions of Jewish Americans is intrinsically tied to the history of the entire country. That is why this year’s theme – Our Shared Heritage – is so important. From those who built the first communities in this nation to those who simply aspired to work hard, raise a family, and make their mark in smaller ways, the entire lived experience of the Jewish people is worth noting. It is no secret that Jewish Americans have faced unimaginable heartbreak and hate from antisemitic rhetoric and the actions of those who subscribe to antisemitic beliefs – from the beginnings of World War II to, unfortunately, today, antisemitism is alive and well in this and other nations around the world. The atrocities and injustices faced by those in the Jewish community in this country are horrific and not to be dismissed or diminished. However, the shared heritage of the Jewish community, the perseverance of Jewish Americans is more than worth celebrating and honoring this, and every, month of the year. By preserving their beliefs, their religion, and their ways of life, the Jewish people in this country have continually overcome the unimaginable. It is an honor and privilege for VANTAGE Aging to provide services to the aging Jewish Americans in our services communities. Their stories, lives, and amazing attributes do not go unnoticed – their heritage is an important part of our mission to continue to promote a positive perspective on aging for all we serve.
There are many ways you can celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month. We recommend taking a virtual tour of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History. The Weitzman provides a comprehensive and captivating virtual tour of the museum alongside countless articles and artifacts celebrating Jewish American history. The tour is fascinating, providing in-depth and thoughtful exhibits, prescient talking points, and a glimpse into the paths that Jewish Americans have paved throughout our nation’s history. Give yourself a few hours to check out the museum online, as well as the rest of the offerings on their website – from coloring pages and activities for kids to livestreams of past events honoring Jewish Americans – the Weitzman provides a truly interactive and engaging experience for Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and religious beliefs.
Next, try your hand at some traditional Jewish foods. Either making them yourself or dining with friends out on the town, there are plenty of easy ways to try out Jewish foods. From cholent to shakshuka, latkes to knish, the variety is as rich as the culture! Matzah ball soup is a safe bet if you’re not feeling super adventurous! Another way to celebrate is to look up Jewish Americans from your area and learn about their impact on your community – every community across the country has been touched in some way by Jewish Americans, so stay local and learn! Want to think more broadly? Check out Jewish composers, movie directors, musical producers, actors, actresses and create binge lists and playlists! This will surely create a list to last you the entire year, as the work of Jewish Americans has shaped Hollywood and beyond. Feeling wordy? Pick up a pen and channel your inner Adrienne Rich or Allen Ginsberg and write some poetry, or read their works. May we recommend “The New Colussus,” by Emma Lazarus? Her 1883 work contained the now infamous lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” Sound familiar?
We here at VANTAGE Aging honor those in the Jewish American community and celebrate the continued contributions of those Jewish Americans in our own communities. L’Chaim!