The last two years on this blog, I spent May talking about Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I shared the history of the celebration, successes and challenges AAPI communities faced, and suggested fiction and nonfiction alike for further reading. This year, I want to share another May celebration I only recently learned about: Jewish American Heritage Month. JAHM is less well known, both due to its relatively recent creation and its much smaller budget for programming, education, and advertising, so today I want to share a little bit of history on how the month-long celebration came to be, why it’s important, and how you can celebrate.
While Jewish American Heritage Month was created in 2006, it has its origins as a national celebration dating back to 1980, when President Jimmy Carter signed a resolution declaring April 21st through 28th to be Jewish Heritage Week. Every year from then on until 2006, the president issued a proclamation designating either a week in April or May to be Jewish Heritage Week, usually alternating April and May each year. April and May were chosen because of the many holidays and significant anniversaries for Jewish communities during those months: Passover, the anniversary of the Warsaw Getto Uprising, the Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust, Israel Independence Day, and more all happen sometime in April or May in most years. While other events, days of remembrance, and celebrations took place, Jewish Heritage Week was the most consistently nationally recognized over the two and a half decades it was celebrated.
In 2004, in addition to Jewish Heritage Week, a celebration was organized for the 350th anniversary of the arrival of 23 Jewish families to New York from Brazil in 1654, which is commonly considered the beginning of Jewish American history. This celebration took place in May, and it was a great success, with a large increase in museum attendance, educational events, fundraising, and more during the celebration. As a result, many Jewish political figures and organizations saw the opportunity for a more expansive recognition and awareness campaign for Jewish history, and organizations such as the Jewish Museum of Florida and politicians including Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Arlen Spector worked together to create a bill designating May as the official Jewish American Heritage Month. The bill was passed unanimously through both the Senate and the House of Representatives and signed by President George W. Bush in early 2006. Since 2006, every year the current president has issued a proclamation acknowledging May as Jewish American Heritage Month, and since 2007, a coalition made up of the United States based Jewish organizations and nonprofits have organized educational events, awareness campaigns, and community celebrations each May.
Compared to many other national monthly celebrations, Jewish American Heritage Month is relatively new, but it is by no means less important. Recognition months are meant to raise awareness for a group’s struggles while also highlighting accomplishments and value, and Jewish communities are well deserving of both. Jewish oppression is by no means in the past, with hate crimes against Jews being up 20% in most recent studies, and more awareness means more people to confront bias and educate themselves and those around them. Likewise, Jewish communities have been an influential part of American culture for hundreds of years, from award winning songwriters like Irving Berlin to Supreme Court Judges like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments and impacts on the U.S. as a whole. And while the month long celebration is hosted by national organizations and nonprofits, anyone can take this month to celebrate successes, educate themselves about oppressions, and work to uplift Jewish communities.
Whether you have Jewish friends and family, you yourself are Jewish, or you just want to learn more and advocate for the Jewish community, you can celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month by uplifting Jewish voices, reading fiction and nonfiction about the Jewish experience (hint: check out this list!), perusing online educational collections, or attending local and online events at museums and nonprofits.