May Is Jewish American Heritage Month
By Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
This May marks the United States’ fifth annual celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, a time dedicated to celebrating the achievements and contributions Jewish Americans have made and continue to make in American culture and society.
As South Floridians, we should take great pride in the fact that the inspiration to create a Jewish American Heritage Month originated from the South Florida Jewish Community in 2005. The idea began with the goal of reducing intolerance and bigotry by raising awareness and understanding of the cultural contributions of Jews to the fabric of American history.
Creating a special month to honor the many contributions of American Jews to our society seemed like a long overdue and critical undertaking. After working for several months to secure 250 co-sponsors in the United States House Of Representatives for a resolution to urge the President to proclaim this special month, I reached out to Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to lead the same effort in the Senate. The resolution passed both the House and the Senate unanimously. And on April 20, 2006, the President proclaimed May as Jewish American Heritage Month for the first time.
Jewish American Heritage Month recognizes that the foundation of our country is built upon the strengths of our unique cultures and backgrounds. Our diversity is our strength, but unfortunately ignorance is still prevalent and it often leads to prejudice and intolerance. That is why I felt it was so important to establish Jewish American Heritage Month.
Similar to Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, Jewish American Heritage Month recognizes the abundance of contributions American Jews have made to the United States over the last 355 years…from technology and literature, to entertainment, politics and medicine.
The Jewish population comprises only two percent of our nation’s population. In fact, most Americans have had few interactions with the Jewish community and our traditions. It is my hope, that by educating non-Jewish Americans about the Jewish contributions to the nation and our culture, we will be able to reduce the ignorance that ultimately leads to hatred and anti-Semitism.
For example, Levi Strauss and Estee Lauder are iconic American names synonymous with America’s success, but few Americans know that they were Jewish Americans.
Certainly every American is familiar with the song “God Bless America.” The patriotic song is often sung at sporting events, recitals, and other public events. But few Americans could tell you that it was written by a Jewish American. Irving Berlin wrote the original score in 1918 and in 1938. He revised it because of the rise of Adolf Hitler. The song became so popular that there was even a movement in 1943 to make it America’s national anthem.
By drawing attention to all of the varied ways in which Jews have contributed to American culture and history, Jewish American Heritage Month strives to create a national conversation about Jewish identity in the United States. Through better understanding and recognition of the importance of the multi-cultural fabric that comprises this country, Jewish American Heritage Month will not only influence Americans’ perspective of Jews, but of all minorities as well.
For South Floridians, Jewish American Heritage Month also symbolizes how a group of people at the community level can serve as a catalyst for a national movement. With more than 80 events across the country, national programming on the Biography Channel and national outreach efforts being led by the Jewish American Heritage Month Coalition, the Library of Congress and the National Archives, Jewish American Heritage month has grown to be a significant part of our nation’s history.
For more information about the history of Jewish life in America, Jewish American Heritage Month, or the many events occurring in May throughout the country, you can visit the official Jewish American Heritage Web site.