What's on our Mind 5-5-2023
Submitted by holliswein on Fri, 05/05/2023 - 4:10pm
Monday kicked off Jewish American Heritage Month, a time designated to reflect on the contributions of American Jews to our nation. President Joe Biden said about this month, “We celebrate the enduring heritage of Jewish Americans, whose values, culture, and contributions have shaped our character as a Nation.”
A proclamation like this from a U.S. president would have been unheard of when the great wave of Jewish immigrants arrived on our shores in the late 1800s. The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, and National Park Service also joined in paying tribute to Jewish Americans. This recognition is yet another reminder of how far we have come.
But our accomplishments have come with challenges and hard-fought battles. As Jews arrived, escaping persecution and seeking a better life, they were once again met with the very type of antisemitism they were fleeing.
In 1654, the first group of Jewish immigrants arrived in present-day New York. The governor attempted to have these Jews removed; not even allowing them to depart their boat until ordered to do so. They were also denied the right to worship in public. Having helped our country gain its independence and settle this country, Major General Ulysses S. Grant expelled Jews from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
Economic fears prevented Jews from working in some fields of employment. Xenophobia barred Jews from renting or owning certain properties and from belonging to country clubs and social clubs. Some resorts even barred Jews with well-known policies of “no Hebrews.” Ivy league schools, such as Harvard, feared that allowing Jews to enroll would increase antisemitism, a ruse for their discriminatory quota polices.
Nevertheless, we have persisted and pushed forward. As we have made progress breaking our own glass ceilings, we have helped to change this country from the sciences, to arts, business, and public service. The accomplishments of Jewish Americans are too numerous to list and too important to honor in just one month.
It is not enough to celebrate our past. We must work to secure our future by doing all that we can to eliminate antisemitism and all forms of hate.