Similar to any month honoring a group, it is not enough to simply acknowledge their existence. It serves as a reminder of how lacking the United States would be without the contributions of Jewish individuals. The same is true for any minority group within the United States. But it is critical to acknowledge Jewish achievements as they can often be overshadowed.
Taking action can always be increasingly hard. This is especially true for those who do not know where to begin. And so, in this article, is a compiled list of things you can do to make an impact for Jewish American Heritage Month.
- Visit a Jewish museum
While online research can be handy, it does not always show the authentic Jewish-American experience. There are many nuances to Judaism, which you can explore at various museums across the country and the world. This is all relative to where you live, but there are some great ones out there. If you’re not sure where to start, there are a few below to help you out.
Many of these museums feature online and virtual exhibits that you can browse from your own house, or from a distance.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Washington, D.C., US
- 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024
Museum of Jewish Heritage
- Manhattan, NY, U.S.
- 36 Battery Place, New York, NY, 10280
Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
- 101 S Independence Mall E, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Contemporary Jewish Museum
- San Francisco, CA, U.S.
- 736 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Skirball Cultural Center
- Los Angeles, CA, U.S.
- 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049
- Remember those who have contributions
There are many Jewish Americans whose contributions to the country have led us to where we are now. Without them, it is safe to say our world would be drastically different. Recognizing these people and their Jewishness is a critical part of JAHM. To start, there is a list of a few significant individuals below.
Benny Friedman (1905 – 1982)
- A quarterback for the University of Michigan Wolverines and the leading passer in the NFL in his era
- Popularized the forward pass
- A consensus first-team All-American in both 1925 and 1926
- Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005
Dr. Edwin Herbert Land (1909 – 1991)
- An American scientist and inventor, known for his work on filters for polarizing light, instant photography, and the retinex theory of color vision
- Co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation
- Frequently advised President Eisenhower on issues of photographic reconnaissance, which he helped develop
- A recipient of many awards, and honorary degrees, and held 535 patents
Ruth Handler (1916 – 2002)
- An American businesswoman and inventor, known for her creation of the Barbie doll
- President of Mattel Inc, the toy manufacturer
- Patented Nearly Me, a realistic prosthesis for breast cancer survivors who underwent mastectomy
Leonard Nimoy (1931 – 2015)
- An American actor and director, known for his role as Spock in Star Trek
- The asteroid 4864 Nimoy was named for him
- Nominated for the Emmy Award three times for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Serie
- Awarded The Life Career Award in 1987
Bob Dylan (1941 – present)
- An American singer-songwriter, considered to be one of the greatest of all time
- Often considered one of the most influential figures of the 20th century because of his impact on popular music, culture, and the power of his lyrics
- Won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, ten Grammy Awards, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received the Presidential medal of Freedom in 2012 along with other awards
Robert Reich (1946 – present)
- An American lawyer, author, political commentator, and a professor, elected the Professor of the Year in 2003 at Brandeis University
- Served as the United States Secretary of Labor from 1993 and 1997 under President Clinton
- Published 18 books, many of which have become best-sellers under economics and political ideology
- Awarded the Václav Havel Foundation VIZE 97 Prize for his writings in 2003
Steven Spielberg (1946 – present)
- An American screenwriter, producer, and film director, considered to be one of the most successful directors of all time
- The co-founder of Amblin Entertainment and DreamWorks
- Winner of three Academy Awards and an AFI Life Achievement Award
- Nine of the films he worked on have been inducted into the National Film Registry for their cultural significance
Adam Sandler (1966 – present)
- An American actor, comedian, and filmmaker
- Known for being a cast member of Saturday Night Light
- As of 2020, had an estimated net worth of $420 million
- Frequently wins People’s Choice Awards, nominated in Grammys, and Emmys, and won an award at the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards
- Learn more about Jewish culture
The Jewish-American identity is full of variation. Oftentimes, it can come down to Jewish beliefs and traditions. Do you know the most important Jewish holidays? The significant foods that are frequently eaten? Which color to wear on what holiday? (That one is a little trickier).
If your answer is no, that is okay!
Supporting the Jewish community and Jewish American Heritage Month means more than visiting a museum or remembering individuals. It means taking the time to understand a culture or religion different from yours. Both are a great way to bridge gaps between people and communities.
Even being able to ask a Jewish friend how they celebrate Passover, or if they had a successful seder, can go a long way in showing sincerity.
- Engage in Jewish media
Part of understanding the Jewish struggle with discrimination, as it is ongoing within the United States and other countries, is looking at the various perspectives within Judaism.
The beautiful thing is that every person has a different experience. Some shy away from their heritage, and some embrace it. Someone may be an Orthodox or Conservative Jew as much as they could be a Reform Jew.
Jewish people come from across the world. Not only confined by appearance, anyone could become Jewish if they so choose.
However, the beauty in a culture does not erase the pain and hardship that has also been experienced.
As much as stories that highlight real experiences exist, there are also stories that make caricatures and stereotypes out of reality. It can often be hard to determine which is which, so a few recommendations are below.
Call it Sleep by Henry Roth
A 1934 novel depicting the life of a Jewish boy growing up in New York’s Lower East Side immigrant ghetto during the early 1900s. It includes the tensions between his family, the societal culture at the time, and how religion played a role. The book has much acclaim and is both an American and Jewish classic.
The Temple Bombing by Melissa Fay Greene
In 1996, this book was published. It delves into the ties between the Black and Jewish communities during the civil rights era. Following Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, as a synagogue in Atlanta got blown apart in 1958. Racism and anti-Semitism are examined as closely as the tensions within communities themselves. Critically acclaimed, this book has won many awards for its storytelling.
Night, Dawn, and Day by Elie Wiesel
This trilogy of books, with the first published in 1956, depicts Elie Wiesel’s thoughts during and after the Holocaust as he experienced them.
In Night, Wiesel tells his own story between the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Throughout the book, he deals with the struggle to keep his identity intact.
Dawn tells the story of a Holocaust survivor after World War II. In it, he moves to the British Mandate of Palestine and joins a group that wants to oust the British.
In Day, the story of a Holocaust survivor reflecting on his experiences in Nazi Germany is told after he gets struck by a taxi in New York.
School Ties (1992)
An American sports drama directed by Robert Mandel. In it, a boy, after receiving a scholarship to a well-off prep school, hides his Jewish identity to avoid anti-Semitism. He can thrive with his football skills, but that changes when his background is discovered, and his fears start to come true.
The Chosen (1981)
An American drama film that tells the story of two Jewish friends, who are raised under different branches of Judaism. Despite this, they have a strong friendship. However, it grows tense as they reach college, and their fathers differing views conflict.
Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations (2020)
A documentary about how anti-Semitism has risen across the United States and Europe. It particularly looks at four countries and their cultures. The director, Andrew Goldberg follows antisemites and people affected by their actions to understand various perspectives.
- Share the news!
Sadly, Jewish American Heritage Month is one of the lesser-known months celebrated throughout the year. The ideas mentioned within this article must be not only visited once a year and then abandoned. They should be available to as many people as possible. So that it can act as a stepping stone for further learning.
Even if that is too difficult, telling someone anything you’ve learned from visiting a museum, researching an individual, or any other action is a great step. Actions do not have to be huge to have importance.