This May, Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) – established by Presidential Proclamation each year since 2006 – will recognize the indelible contributions American Jews have made, and continue to make, to our nation’s history, culture, and society.
The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia leads this nationwide celebration that features a month-long series of events, including a virtual Capitol Hill event and the premiere of an important documentary about a rabbi who played a key role in the Civil Rights movement. More than 75 partner organizations across 29 states will participate in JAHM’s national programming and education campaign.
“For more than 360 years, American Jews have always risen to contribute to society and culture, including science, medicine, sports, business, civil rights, government, and military service,” said NMAJH CEO, Dr. Misha Galperin. “We’re working to raise awareness about those contributions and to stem the roots of antisemitism by bringing stories of American Jewish experience to life.”
Jewish American History Month began as an effort by the Jewish Museum of Florida and South Florida Jewish community leaders. Through the bi-partisan efforts of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and the late Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, JAHM was established in 2006 by President George W. Bush to honor the contributions and achievements of Jewish Americans and to educate all Americans. It’s been continued every year since then by Presidential Proclamation. NASA Astronaut Garrett Reisman, a New Jersey native, carried the original JAHM proclamation into space in 2010, and President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama hosted the first-ever White House reception in honor of JAHM that same year.
The JAHM 2021 Theme
This Jewish American Heritage Month takes its theme from the ancient sage Rabbi Hillel’s most well-known saying – “If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now – when?” – and the work of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.
JAHM will highlight historical moments in which American Jewish communities demonstrated remarkable resilience and care for communities outside of their own, and also how diverse communities stood up for Jews in the face of antisemitism. The month will showcase contemporary stories of communities transcending difference to come together in mutual support and solidarity and amplify diverse voices within the Jewish community. JAHM will work to fight not only explicit antisemitism, but also its insidious influences and discrimination against people of all races, religions, and walks of life.
JAHM 2021 will feature a series of hallmark events throughout May.
• The month of activities will kick off with a two-part event featuring an all-day free screening of the film, Spiritual Audacity: The Abraham Heschel Story, a documentary by filmmaker Martin Doblmeier about the prophetic civil rights leader. The screening will culminate in a conversation on the lessons of the Heschel-King legacy and its relevance today in fighting hate in all form with members of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations.
• Typically held in person at the U.S. Capitol, this year’s Congressional JAHM Celebration will be held virtually. Our nation’s legislators will offer their perspectives on the importance of honoring and celebrating Jewish American heritage across the country. The event will also honor Holocaust Survivor and authoritative voice on the subject of antisemitism, Abe Foxman, the former long-time director of the Anti-Defamation League.
• Other activities throughout the month include: a program with the Combat Antisemitism Movement on the lessons of the Soviet Jewry movement for today and how everyday people can leverage the power of their voices to make change; an event celebrating the diversity of American Jewish life through stories of Asian American Jewish experience in partnership with The Andrew and Ann Tisch Center for Jewish Dialogue at ANU, The Museum of the Jewish People; and more conversations, performances, and partnerships that will be announced in the weeks to come.
• New for 2021, JAHM will feature a nationwide initiative to select the first community-based inductee into the NMAJH Ed Snider Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame. Nominees will be Jewish Americans who embody the spirit of this year’s JAHM theme and have been dedicated to helping others and making a difference in their community during the past year. Details on how the public can participate in the nomination and voting process will are available on the JAHM website.
For more information on Jewish American Heritage Month, as well as stories about how Jews have shaped and been shaped by America across nearly four centuries, visit there NMAJH.org.