Jewish American Heritage Month

Child smiling in black knit cap
Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

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By Megan McQueen

Although I did not grow up in a Jewish home, I grew up in a community with many Jewish families. I went to the temple with my friends, celebrated sacred holidays in their homes, and worked in the nursery school at the local Jewish Community Center. Close friendships humanized Jewish history for me. In 2006, the United States government declared that May would be Jewish American History Month to celebrate the diverse Jewish community and honor the past. Learning more about Jewish Americans helps us all embrace rich cultural traditions and find inspiration in stories of joy and resilience.

Let’s learn together!

Learn More About Famous Jewish Americans: Your children might increase their excitement by learning more about some people they already know. Albert Einstein was a Nobel-prize-winning scientist whose perseverance can encourage us all. Your theater kids might appreciate learning more about Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), Natalie Portman (Star Wars), and Andrew Garfield (Spiderman). Painter Mark Rothko grew up in Oregon. The feminist icon and Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg was also Jewish. Your family may want to watch PBS’ video series about Jewish Americans, famous and everyday family stories.

Holidays and Celebrations: There is much to celebrate in the Jewish calendar. Many people know about Hanukkah, the festival of lights. Also of note, the “High Holy” days begin with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and end with Yom Kippur. Passover commemorates the liberation of enslaved people from Egypt. A Seder dinner is often eaten near the beginning of Passover to celebrate the holiday with ritual foods and readings. Shabbat is typically celebrated once a week, from sundown to sundown on Friday and Saturday. Families have different ways of observing Shabbat, of course. Some people light candles, read from the Torah, eat particular foods, and rest from technology and driving. These are just a few of the many ways Jewish families celebrate and gather together. 

Leaning into Jewish Traditions (Even if you aren’t Jewish): If you are Jewish, this is a fabulous time to dig into your cultural history. If you are not Jewish, you can learn from some beautiful traditions and people without appropriating their culture. Respecting elders is a core value in many cultures, including Judaism. We can all ask questions of our elders about their life or family history. Make some bagels together! Bagels originated in Polish Jewish communities. Sing and dance with your family. Listen to popular swing music by Jews such as “Drum Boogie” with Jewish drummer Gene Krupa. Sing along to Broadway hits by Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim.

Stand up to antisemitism: Antisemitism – prejudice against Jewish people – has familiar threads with other forms of racism and bias. Recently, a resurgence in hate crimes against Jews reminds us of the need to educate ourselves in ways to speak up against racism. Learn about the Holocaust. Depending on the age of your children, you may wish to include them in your education. Many younger people have a gap in their knowledge about the atrocities of this time. We all have a desire to protect our children from horrors, and we can empower them with honest, factual conversations. Connecting to historical events and current acts of antisemitism with gentleness may help your children become compassionate adults. Many children’s books about the Holocaust can help jumpstart your conversations. Empower your children to become people who will stand up for what is just, as Irena Sendler did during the Holocaust. The Anti-Defamation League suggests talking with children with open-ended questions such as, “How do you think antisemitic incidents impact people and our society?” You may also take action steps together, such as volunteering with local or national groups fighting against hate or bias.

Books:

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

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