By The Friedlander Group
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 20, the Kennedy Caucus Room in Washington’s Russell Senate Office Building was packed with more than 200 legislators, Jewish leaders and their supporters who participated in a bipartisan celebration of American Jewish Heritage Month to recognize the many contributions of the Jewish people to the United States.
In 2006, President George W. Bush proclaimed May as Jewish American Heritage Month, an initiative led by Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the late Senator Arlen Specter. The Friedlander Group and Project Legacy have been sponsoring a special tribute on Capitol Hill for the last several years.
Among those feted at the event was Holocaust survivor Judith Kallman of Greenwich, author of the acclaimed book A Candle in the Heart. Kallman was lauded by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) for her efforts to convince students to stop the hate.
Kallman earned a standing ovation for her speech, in which she recounted the time when, as a child, she and her siblings became fugitives of the Third Reich after they witnessed their parents and older siblings get into a cattle car headed for Auschwitz.
Kallman survived the horrors of the Holocaust thanks to the kindness of strangers, and ended her odyssey from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, England, and Israel to come to America. “Here I discovered that life is indeed beautiful and that I can enjoy my family and love deeply,” she told those gathered on the Hill. “I owe that ability to my parents, of blessed memory, who lavished the best of their love, hope and care upon me from the moment I appeared in their lives. And I owe it to the freedom I found in America, a freedom from fear that allowed me to raise my children in peace, to practice Judaism without shame. How does one say ‘thank you’ for that?”
In addition to Kallman, those honored on Capitol Hill as part of the Jewish Heritage Month celebration included: Itzhak Yehoshua, chief rabbi of the Bukharian Jewish community and president of the Bukharian Rabbinical Council of America, who immigrated to the United States in 1987, and built the American Bukharian community from what was once a small group into a vast community with over 65,000 members; Mark Meyer Appel, founder of the Bridge Multicultural and Advocacy Project, an organization that unites people of every racial, ethnic, cultural and religious background; AISH International, one of the largest Jewish outreach organizations of its kind in the world, which aims to connect Jews to their ancient heritage in a warm, non-judgmental environment.
The event was emceed by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, and Greg Rosenbaum, who chairs the Jewish Heritage Month Celebration. The list of speakers included members of both houses of Congress and both sides of the aisle.
A standing ovation was given to Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights hero who came to the microphone and remembered the marches in the south, reciting the words of the Bible and the lyrics of the classic, “Let My People Go.” He reminded those in the audience of the days when Jews marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the fight for human rights, and recalled three young men he knew who were arrested and murdered fighting for freedom in the United States: Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Earl Chaney, lynched by the KKK in 1964.
CAP: Homeland Security Chairman Senator Ron Johnson presents the Jewish Heritage Award to Judith Alter Kallman, author of A Candle in the Heart surrounded by her family and friends alongside Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida. Photo credit: Shmuel and Dov Lenchevsky.