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American Jews are Woven Into the Fabric of U.S. History



“This month, we celebrate the enduring heritage of Jewish Americans, whose values, culture and contributions have shaped our character as a Nation. For generations, the story of the Jewish people – one of resilience, faith and hope in the face of adversity, prejudice and persecution – has been woven into the fabric of our Nation’s story.” – President Biden


American Jews are an integral part of U.S. history and culture. Since before the nation’s founding, Jewish immigrants contributed their blood, sweat, toil and tears to build the American Dream. Many, with only pennies in their pockets, came to America with the hope of building a better life for their future generations. They believed that they had a shared responsibility in building and protecting a nation in its infancy. These were the early roots of Jewish American patriotism.


May is Jewish American Heritage Month – recognizing the enduring contributions and innovations Jews make to American culture, education, science and technology. The month-long celebration was first officially recognized in 2006, when President George W. Bush issued a formal proclamation honoring America’s Jews. This year, all 26 Republican governors hailed the “impact of the American Jewish people” on the nation.


The patriotism of American Jews was proven on the battlefields of the American Revolution, the Civil War and in all foreign conflicts. There are 2,500 Jews buried at Arlington National Cemetery, providing silent testimony. Legendary author Mark Twain questioned Jewish patriotism until he was presented with statistics showing Jewish participation throughout American military history. Twain acknowledged that “I was ignorant” and that Jews served at a higher rate than Christians. Union General Oliver Otis Howard praised his Jewish officers as being “of the bravest and best,” and “intrinsically there are no more patriotic men to be found in the country than those who claim to be of Hebrew descent.”


Jews marched arm-in-arm with African American leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and gave their lives in support of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. Decades before, Sears department store pioneer Julius Rosenwald teamed up with civil rights leader Booker T. Washington to fund schools for African American children in the south. The eponymous Rosenwald School project built more than 5,000 schools, vocational centers and teacher homes in the early 1900s. His philanthropic work provided educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of African American children.


American Jews have made important cultural contributions throughout U.S history. Composer Israel “Irving” Berlin wrote God Bless America while serving in the army during World War I and later the classic White Christmas. Upon his passing, President George H. W. Bush hailed him as “a legendary man whose words and music will help define the history of our nation.”


There are many notable entertainers who have captured the attention of Americans: legendary escape artist Harry Houdini; Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; singers Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan; actors Scarlett Johansson and Adam Sandler; Jeopardy! host Mayim Bialik; and Star Trek actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Inspired by an aspect of Jewish High Holiday services, Nimoy created the universally recognizable “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute. 🖖


Polio is no longer a threat to American children because of the contributions of Jewish doctors, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Businesswoman Estée Lauder co-founded the cosmetics brand bearing her name. Baseball hall-of-famer Sandy Koufax garnered national attention when he observed the holy day of Yom Kippur rather than pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series.


But today’s Jews face rising antisemitism and even deadly attacks. Unfortunately, as President Biden proclaimed: “We have witnessed violent attacks on synagogues, bricks thrown through windows of Jewish businesses, swastikas defacing cars and cemeteries, Jewish students harassed on college campuses and Jews wearing religious attire beaten and shot on streets. Antisemitic conspiracy theories are rampant online, and celebrities are spouting antisemitic hate.”


Violent attacks against Jewish community centers date back to at least 1957 with the discovery of a bomb before it exploded in an Alabama synagogue. Swastikas continue to be painted on synagogues and a Las Vegas high school student recently carved a swastika into the back of a Jewish autistic classmate. Many Jewish students feel unsafe at universities and Orthodox Jews were the main target of anti-Jewish assaults in 2022. Jew-hating bigots continue to spread hateful content online and celebrities – including Kanye “Ye” West and Kyrie Irving – helped mainstream anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.


Jews, like many other immigrants, fled persecution, foreign wars and famines for a fresh start in a new land. They now must fight for their right to exist in the land they helped build and defend. Jewish American Heritage Month aims to promote greater understanding and appreciation of Jewish history and culture, as well as to recognize the many challenges that American Jews have faced and overcome.


In a letter to the nation’s first synagogue, President George Washington wrote: “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” 


1. Jews are an essential part of American history

Just as Americans of other ethnic and religious groups have laid the foundation for today’s America, Jews also contributed their share – from before the Revolutionary War to today. While there are famous Jews who are household names, many everyday Jews also contribute to American success. There are Jewish teachers and construction workers who contributed to educating future generations of Americans and built the nation’s skyscrapers. U.S. Jews served proudly for the Union in the Civil War, founded businesses and entertained America on stage, on screen and in concert halls. Jews are one of the many ethnic groups that helped build America – pursuing and protecting the American dream. They should be celebrated like all other ethnicities – not persecuted.

2. Heritage is central to Jewish identity

Jewish heritage encompasses a rich and diverse history, culture, and religion that spans over 3,000 years. From their ancient origins in the land of Israel to today, the Jewish people have maintained deep ties to their heritage – connecting with their roots to build a sense of belonging and community. This has played a significant role in shaping their beliefs, values and way of life. At the heart of Jewish religion is the belief in a single, omnipotent G-d who created the universe and made a covenant with the Jewish people. Cultural elements of Jewish heritage include speaking Hebrew, lighting the menorah on Chanukah and dressing up in costumes for Purim. Jewish heritage also encompasses a long history of persecution and resilience. Despite centuries of exile, oppression and genocide, Jews have fought to preserve their cultural and religious traditions. The Jewish people have demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt and thrive in the face of adversity.

3. Jewish identity is complex and eternally tied to the Jewish state

Many incorrectly assume that Jews are only a religious group because Jewish identity predates Western categories. Jews are not only a religion, but also an ethnic group descended from ancient Hebrews – a people, nation, culture and heritage. American Jews have been patriots and leaders in many fields. Like many other immigrant communities, Jews also maintain their cultural identity and connection to their ancestral homeland, Israel – and its capital Jerusalem. Israel and Jerusalem are mentioned numerous times in Jewish religious texts and traditions – “Next year in Jerusalem” is an annual phrase delivered at the Passover seder and the end of Yom Kippur services. Secular Zionists – like the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl – also understood the significance of Israel to the Jewish people. Despite attempts by anti-Zionists to undo the “centrality of Israel and peoplehood to Jewish identity,” Zionism remains a core component of Jewish identity.

4. Erasive antisemitism seeks to eliminate Jewish identity

There are Jew-hating bigots who not only deny or distort the Holocaust – they also deny and distort all of Jewish history and identity. They deny that Jews are a people with a unique ancestry who have shared memory, experienced oppression, were exiled from the land of Israel and have a centuries-old connection to the Jewish state. This is erasive antisemitism. Instead, these bigots accuse Jews of being oppressors. They label all Jews as “white” even though historically Jews were never considered white, most notably by Hitler who saw Jews as race polluters. Jews need the help of non-Jews to push back against this growing effort to erase the Jews’ distinct identity and create spaces where Jews feel comfortable talking about their history. Jews must be able to celebrate their heritage openly and proudly without fear of being excluded, shunned or even harmed.

5. Educators must teach Jewish culture

Condemnations of anti-Jewish hatred are just the first step in countering the false and inflammatory narratives against Jews. Hatred of Jews predated the Holocaust by millennia and was fueled by vicious libels about Jewish cultural practices; many of these persist today. Beyond just teaching tolerance and respect, factual histories – including lessons on the Jewish nation – must serve a central role in the education of children and adults. The history of the Jewish people demonstrates that hatred toward Jews can devour entire civilizations. The best approach to countering these malicious lies and erasive antisemitism is to teach and celebrate Jewish history and culture, advocate for Jewish rights and challenge discriminatory attitudes and behaviors.


A. Advocate for the recognition of Jewish American Heritage Month in your local community and schools

Cities and states have issued proclamations for Jewish American Heritage Month, including Boston, Chicago, LA, NY, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. These statements of support often include a variety of events and activities aimed at promoting awareness and appreciation of Jewish culture and history. Check if your city, county and state recognize JAHM, and if your local schools educate children about the contributions of American Jews. If they do not, please consider contacting your local political and educational leaders to ask them to support this initiative – ensuring that Jewish culture and traditions are being accurately taught.

B. Jews should consider inviting non-Jews to Shabbat dinners and cultural events

Interfaith and intercultural dialogue between people from different religions and cultures helps them to learn more about each other. Shabbat dinners help non-Jews learn about Jewish heritage and cultural practices. Throughout May, various events across the country are celebrating Jewish heritage. These events – lectures, exhibitions, concerts and other cultural activities – provide an opportunity for American Jews and non-Jews alike to learn more about the history and contributions of American Jews and to celebrate the diversity and richness of American culture.


If you are interested in learning more about Jewish American Heritage Month and related events in your area, you can check with local Jewish community organizations and visit the Jewish American Heritage Month website for more information.


Stories Impacting the U.S. and Israel

o  “As long as I am speaker, America will continue to support full funding for

security assistance in Israel”

o  “We must always remain resolute in our commitment that Iran will never

acquire a nuclear weapon”

o  Israel’s special bond with the U.S. will only grow stronger over the next 75


Israeli Memorial Day

  • Sibling of slain Yaniv brothers celebrates his bar mitzvah at their graves; sister: “Despite the incomprehensible price we have paid, we continue to love”
  • UN Security Council holds Palestinian-focused session on Israel’s Memorial Day despite Israel’s request for date change; Israel’s ambassador, in protest, reads aloud names of fallen Israelis, lights memorial candle in chamber before walking out in protest

Israeli Independence Day

Hatred of Jews in America

  • ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt: “I know that for bigots – especially those who self-style as ‘anti-Zionists’ – Israel’s Independence Day is a day to redouble their efforts to make sure it is Israel’s last Independence Day
  • Two plead guilty to hate crime charges for 2021 attack on Jewish man in NY; victim thinks sentences should have been harsher
  • Massachusetts woman arrested for placing swastikas at home of Jewish lawyer representing her child’s father in an ongoing custody battle
  • Swastikas found drawn on desks at NY high school
  • Alums for Campus Fairness protest “virulent antisemite” George Washington University professor who will participated at an American Psychological Association roundtable in NY
  • UC Berkely students continue to stand up against anti-Jewish speakers and events on campus
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger describes how his father, an avowed Nazi, was among millions “sucked into a hate system” of Nazi lies


Jerry Springer: Former Cincinnati mayor, iconic TV talk-show host


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Jewish American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the diversity and richness of American Jewish culture and to honor the accomplishments of American Jews in all areas of American life. From movies to music and science breakthroughs to Nobel Prize winners, Jews, like all other ethnic groups, have made noteworthy contributions to American society. Many American Jews have pursued and protected the American Dream since before the nation’s founding – being among its first immigrants and pioneering in the fields that America is most known for today.

The Focus Project develops and distributes news, background, history and weekly talking points on timely issues to inform individuals and organizations about issues affecting the American Jewish community and Israel, and help readers speak with more consistency and clarity. The editions also provide potential responses for addressing incidents of Jew hatred and anti-Zionism. With input from a spectrum of major American Jewish organizations, we focus on that which unites us, rising above political and individual agendas.

Recognizing that Jew hatred comes in many forms and directions, we strive to address all sources as they arise, and educate our growing audience on topics ranging from inter-religious relations to relevant international developments. From week to week, we may focus on issues arising from the political left, university campuses, from the political right and from institutions, government, and corporations. We don’t try to address all issues in each edition. We hope you will find this information useful in your writing and/or speaking. We are always open to your feedback: [email protected].

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