April 20, 2023
When Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) joined Congress in 2004, her constituents in South Florida sent her with a task. Dedicate a month comparable to Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Women’s History Month that honors the Jewish community’s contributions to the U.S.
Resolutions passed in both the U.S. Senate and the House urging the President to proclaim a month specifically recognizing Jews in America and their many contributions to American culture, history, military, science, and government.
In 2006, President George W. Bush proclaimed May as Jewish American Heritage Month. And every year since, Presidents, Obama, Trump, and Biden have recognized the occasion.
Here are five ways to learn about the Jewish people’s contributions to American progress and celebrate throughout the month.
1) Take in a museum
There are so many repositories of Jewish history throughout the U.S. You’re bound to find one close enough for a day trip. Here are just a few.
In New York, the Center for Jewish History and the Museum of Jewish Heritage welcomes visitors to learn about the broad tapestry of Jewish life going back centuries. A walking tour of the Lower East Side where most Jews lived at the turn of the 20th Century, including The Tenement Museum, also provides a window into the American Jewish experience.
Meanwhile, during the month of May, the Jewish Museum of Maryland will feature the new work of 30 contemporary Jewish artists; the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee will feature pieces confiscated by the Nazis; and the Skirball Cultural Center of Los Angeles will feature the West Coast debut of Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare about the many Jewish creatives who suffered the wrath of the film industry.
Test your knowledge of the rich culture and heritage of the Jewish people!
2) Curl up with a good book
This year’s National Jewish Book Awards recognized a wide range of authors and subject matter. KosherSoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew (Amistad) by Michael W. Twitty includes the author’s conversations with people from different demographics within the African and Jewish diasporas.
One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World (Avid Reader Press) chronicles what happened after a chance meeting between author Michael Frank and one of the last remaining Holocaust survivors from the vanished Sephardic community of Juderia on the Greek island of Rhodes.
Dani Shapiro’s novel Signal Fires (Alfred A. Knopf) explores how Jewish spirituality permeates our ethics, actions, and human connections, while June Keit Miller’s Shayna tells the story of a 17-year-old Ukrainian girl who rescues her nephew from the Cossacks and makes the brave trek to the Lower East Side of New York.
In The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World (Harper Collins), author Jonathan Freedland tells the story of Rudolf Vrba, one of the very first Jews to break out of Auschwitz to reveal the truth of the death camp to the world.
For something more academic, try Jonathan Sarna's Coming to Terms with America: Essays on Jewish History, Religion, and Culture, a collection of essays about the intersection of Jewish and American identities. Sarna joined AJC’s People of the Pod to discuss Jewish American heritage two years ago. And if you’d rather just look instead of read, flip through the pages of Alana Newhouse's A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of The Forward, which features archival photographs of over a century of Jewish life in America.
3) Binge watch a TV show
As Israel’s entertainment industry booms, several Israeli television series have captured the attention of American Jewish audiences. Netflix subscribers can sit on the edge of their seats and watch Fauda, a television series about an undercover IDF unit’s fight against terrorism.
Sit back in your seat instead of on the edge of it and enjoy Shtisel, a drama set in the Haredi neighborhood of Geula, Jerusalem about a family following universal struggles: the loss of parents, complicated father-son relationships, and imperfect marriages.
Amazon Prime subscribers can watch the Israeli equivalent of Notting Hill, Beauty and the Baker, about a baker and an international supermodel whose love affair requires them to navigate the divisions between their Ashkenazi and Yemenite communities.
Also on Amazon is the hit show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, set in the late 1950s and early 60s, it provides a glimpse into the post-WWII American Jewish life when a Jewish housewife in New York City becomes a standup comic.
Hulu viewers can watch the original series that was adapted into the Emmy-winning drama Homeland called Hatufim, or Prisoners of War. This thriller opens with the return of two Israeli soldiers, and the remains of another, following their 17 years in captivity. As the series unravels, so does the truth about what really happened behind enemy lines.
HBO viewers can tune into The Plot Against America, a series based on the Philip Roth novel about an alternate American history during World War II, told through the eyes of a working-class Jewish family in New Jersey who watch as aviator Charles Lindbergh becomes president and steers the U.S. toward fascism.
4) Become a next-level Jewish chef
Up your kitchen game and stock up on new recipes. Fire up your slow cooker for a Shabbat meal from 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.
Search for recipes in The New York Times from the incomparable Joan Nathan or dive into her newest compendium King Solomon's Table, Jewish recipes from all around the world and spanning centuries that are actually doable for kitchen novices.
Another accessible cookbook is Jew-ish: A Cookbook: Reinvented Recipes by a Modern Mensch, by social media influencer Jake Cohen. Listen to Jake on AJC’s People of the Pod talk about how sharing recipes and their connected stories from across the Jewish world is his form of advocacy.
Meanwhile, author Benedetta Jasmine Guetta recently published her first English-language cookbook Cooking alla Giudia, a celebration of Italy’s Jewish cuisine, largely inspired by the influx of Jewish immigrants from Middle Eastern and North African countries, as featured in The Forgotten Exodus.
5) Listen to Jewish voices
Tune into and subscribe to a Jewish podcast. Israel’s most popular podcast, Israel Story, is now in its seventh season, and tells extraordinary stories about ordinary Israelis. Hosted by Mishy Harman, the bi-weekly show is the Israeli equivalent of NPR’s “This American Life.”
For stories about American Jews, tune into Unorthodox, a podcast by the team at Tablet Magazine. This year the team launched an adventure in American Jewish geography, visiting a dozen different American cities.
You can also hear some legendary Jewish voices by visiting AJC’s collection at the New York Public Library, the mother of all American Jewish oral histories. The 156,000 pages of transcripts, 6,000 hours of taped interviews, and 2,250 informants chronicle “the American Jewish experience in the 20th century.”
Or listen to some lyrics from some of today’s top Jewish performing artists in a variety of genres including rapper, songwriter, and record producer Nissim Black, legend Barbara Streisand, rock star Pink, and bluegrass innovators Nefesh Mountain.