Jewish Heritage Ignored (Again) During Jewish American Heritage Month
By Naomi Grant
May is Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Less important to businesses capitalizing on this “holiday” is that May also happens to be Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), codified by a White House Proclamation.
I am disappointed that I learned of the existence of JAHM when I worked at an Epsicopalian school in 2021. After Black History Month in February, they sent a routine staff email, toward the bottom of which mentioned the upcoming themed months, May being JAHM.
If Jewish organizations do not mark this month, no one can be expected to.
Asians and Jews have both borne the brunt of today’s trendy woke vitriol and nowhere is more obvious than in the fact that we have to share our heritage month. (Black History Month was February, Women’s History Month was March, Latin American Heritage Month this year is September 15 through October 15 and Native American Heritage Month is November.)
However, Jews still, of course, are placed at the absolute bottom of the racial pyramid by virtue of the commercialization of APPI Heritage Month and the near-complete obscurity of Jewish American Heritage Month. My gym—a gym!—is even capitalizing on APPI Month (as it did with Black and Women’s History Months) with special themed classes, while classically ignoring the Jews. I have emailed my gym multiple times, as well as my university’s alumni association, asking why they are ignoring JAHM.
Asians and Jews are both considered minorities or not, depending on who’s asking. The University of Maryland, recently came under fire for displaying a graphic on student ethnicity data that included the labels “students of color minus Asians” and “white or Asian students.”
But that’s just it—UMD came under fire. News outlets with names like NBC covered it. Fox covered it. Yahoo! covered it. Several news outlets I’ve never even heard of covered it. And no one was even directly harmed by these questionable labels.
And when Georgetown Law decides to host a raging antisemite? Not one outlet with nearly the clout of NBC or Yahoo! bothers to cover it.
Jews are more than twice as likely as both blacks and Muslims to be the victim of hate crimes. To have any chance of lowering this rate, we need to wage a full-scale advocacy campaign.
My fellow Jews and our non-Jewish allies: We have a lot of work to do.
For JAHM 2023 and going forward, Jewish organizations need to go all out promoting the month both online and in real life, with cultural events and events that raise awareness regarding antisemitism and how to respond.
When we see double standards - such as the way prejudice against Jews versus prejudice against any other minority is handled - we must call it out. There may still be people unaware they’re enabling antisemitism because they have never been taught otherwise. It is incumbent upon the Jewish community to teach otherwise.
Jewish organizations need to cooperate better with one another, especially organizations that serve overlapping communities or are based in the same cities. University Chabads and Hillels must see each other as teammates, not competitors. Neighboring synagogues - even those that cater to the same denomination - should view each other similarly.
In a joint staff training with a Jewish camp a few hours down the road from mine, our then-director of my summer camp announced that he and the other camp’s director don’t see each other as competitors; rather, their competitors are all the kids who are not going to Jewish summer camps. Neighboring synagogues would do well to follow their lead.
Relationships with non-Jewish organizations are also key - people are much more likely to go to bat for those they know than those they don’t. An antisemitic attack somewhere in the United States can seem abstract, particularly for non-Jews, but when the victim happens to your neighbor or your friend’s cousin, it suddenly matters a lot more.
Jewish youth programs, especially day schools, need to teach their kids the history of antisemitism, modern iterations thereof and how to dispel common disinformational talking points attacking Israel. Waiting until a BDS resolution shows up in a university student government to educate Jewish students on BDS leaves us several steps behind.
The White House Proclamation made JAHM “official.” But the Jewish community needs to make it substantive and remind the rest of America of our substantial contributions: the polio vaccine, labor rights, military awards, legal support in the Civil Rights movement, Olympic gold medals, the Heimlich maneuver and award-winning music and film.
Most importantly, we’re not going anywhere.
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