Any observance?
Published on May 17, 2009 By Larry Kuperman In Current Events

For the past three years, May has been Jewish American Heritage Month and I am curious as to whether this is clebrated or even recognized in reader's communities.

On April 20, 2006, President George W. Bush first proclaimed that May would be Jewish American Heritage Month. The proclamation was in response to resolutions introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania urging the president to proclaim a month that would recognize the more than 350-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture. The resolutions passed unanimously, first in the House of Representatives in December 2005 and later in the Senate in February 2006.

On May 13th, 2009, President Obama reiterated the commitment to honoring the contributions of Jewish Americans.

"Jewish Americans have immeasurably enriched our Nation," the proclamation states. "Unyielding in the face of hardship and tenacious in following their dreams, Jewish Americans have surmounted the challenges that every immigrant group faces and have made unparalleled contributions."

"Among the greatest contributions of the Jewish American community," it continues, "is the example they have set for all Americans. They have demonstrated that Americans can choose to maintain cultural traditions while honoring the principles and beliefs that bind them together as Americans. Jewish-American history demonstrates how America's diversity enriches and strengthens us all."

What are those contributions?

- The first Jews came to America in 1654, to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and requested permission to stay. Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of New Amsterdam, initially denied them refuge and in fact, threw the leader in jail. However, many of the investors of the Dutch West India Company were Jewish, and their influence enabled the Sephardic Jews to stay.

- Haym Solomon is considered the primary financier of the American Revolution. He came to New York from Poland in 1772 and immediately joined the Sons of Liberty. Without his efforts in bringing in needed supplies, the American Revolution might well have failed.

- In recognition of the contributions and support of the American Jewish community during the American Revolution, George Washington wrote a note of thanks to the members of the Tuoro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island, containing the following oft-quoted phrase: "The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which 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."

- There is consensus that about 10,000 Jews took up arms during the Civil War and that the majority of American Jews fought for the Union, but whether 2000 or 3000 Jews fought for the Confederacy is debated. Judah Philip Benjamin served as first Attorney General, then Secretary of War and finally Secretary of State for the Confederacy. Prior to the Civil War, he had been a member of the United States Senate because of his sharp mind and skills as an orator. His most famous exchange on the Senate floor was related to his religion and the issue of slavery: Benjamin Wade of Ohio accused him of being an "Israelite in Egyptian clothing," and he replied that, "It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightnings of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain."

- Joseph Seligman stands almost in counter-point to Judah Benjamin. Born in 1819 in Germany, Seligman came to the United States when he was 18. With his brothers, he started a bank, J. & W. Seligman & Co., with branches in New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, London, Paris and Frankfurt. A friend of Ulysses S. Grant, Seligman helped finance the Union during the Civil War through the sale of $200 million in bonds, a feat that has been described as being “scarcely less important than the Battle of Gettysburg." Seligman would be offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury, but would decline due to shyness. After the conclusion of the war that he had helped win and despite being one of the richest men in America at the time, Seligman and his family would be refused admittance to the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York. The hotel denied entry to Joseph Seligman and his family because they were Jews, creating nationwide controversy.

- American Jews fought in disproportionate numbers, relative to the general population of America, during the Civil War, World War I and World War II.

- Jews had always been active in the American Civil Rights movement. In 1909, Henry Moscowitz joined W.E.B. DuBois and other civil rights leaders to found the NAACP. In the 1950s and 1960s, a disproportionate number of Jews were active in the Civil Rights Movement and often put their lives on the line. On June 21, 1964, three young civil rights workers were murdered near Philadelphia, in Nashoba County, Mississippi. One, a 21-year-old Mississippian, James Chaney, was black and the other two were white, Jewish New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24.

Since coming to America (even before it was America) Jews have embraced American culture and religous freedom and the American commitment to social justice. America has been very, very good to us and we have tried to reciprocate.

Given the breadth of contributions that Jews have made to American society and the official recogntion by the government, was anything done in your community to recognize those contributions?


Comments
on May 17, 2009

Thank you for a great article!

 

on May 17, 2009

And todah robah to you, Leuki, for commenting. I was thinking of you earlier today. I was at the Israeli Anniversary celebration earlier today, again with my "Blue Box Bob" costume on. (The "Blue Box" was the traditional receptacle for collecting funds to support the State of Israel.) And I will tell you that I participated this year with a cetain amount of angst. As you know, Leuki, I disgree strongly with certain Israeli policies, including the policies toward Gaza, and with certain Israelis, perhaps most especially Avigidor Lieberman. Some of the more Liberal members of our little congregation here in Ann Arbor did not want to participate in the activities or even want our name associated with the celebration. But my position was that we are part of a larger community and that this was a community celebration. I don't have to agree with everyone on every issue to be part of a community. Nor, for that matter, do I have to agree with every policy of either the American goevernment or the Israeli government to have ties, strong ties at that, to both America and to Israel.

Leuki, I may not always agree with you, in fact I think we disagree more than we agree about many matters. But I will defend your right to hold those opinions.....of course reserving the right to dispute. Afterall, two Jews, three opinions as the old saying goes!

As President Obama said in recognizing the Passover Holiday's universal importance as a celebration of freedom, "Chag Sameach!"

on May 17, 2009

As it has been, so shall it be.

on May 17, 2009

And I will tell you that I participated this year with a cetain amount of angst. As you know, Leuki, I disgree strongly with certain Israeli policies, including the policies toward Gaza, and with certain Israelis, perhaps most especially Avigdor Lieberman. 

When Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza and built a fence around it, I figured it would show the world that the Arabs would not live in peace when the "occupation" ends and that they would kill each other.

They did and somehow it is Israel's fault again.

I am more worried about Gaza's policies towards Israel than about Israel's policies towards Gaza. But I wish Gaza would take three years of bombardment before shooting back at Israel. And I wish the Arabs would build field hospitals to care for the Jewish civilians they kill. But we haven't reached that point and we never will.

If Avigdor Lieberman were an Arab, he would be hailed as a moderate. But since he is a Jew, he is a racist.

I didn't support him before the elections. Now I do.

 

Some of the more Liberal members of our little congregation here in Ann Arbor did not want to participate in the activities or even want our name associated with the celebration.

That's a luxury Jews in the US can afford.

The Jewish Reform in Germany movement rejected Zionism in the late 19th century. Reform rabbis argued that Jews can and should assimilate and not try to rebuild their ancient state.

They changed their mind in 1942. Today (what is left of) the German Reform movement is officially Zionist.

Do you know one difference between Ashkenazim (German/European/American Jews) and Mizrachim (middle-eastern Jews)? Ashkenazim had to become Zionists, Mizrachim always have been Zionists.

No offence, but the more liberal members of your congregation probably do not have memories of the Farhud or had to face a prospect like the one predicted by the PLO chairman before the Six Day War ("Those [Jews] who survive will remain in Palestine. I estimate that none of them will survive."). And I assume American newspapers which print cartoons like the one below are not supported by a government eager to make into reality what the cartoonist suggests.

http://www.sixdaywar.co.uk/graphics/jewish-skulls-500.jpg

And while some liberal Jews might say that it is Israel's policies that cause this hatred, one should remember that the Farhud was before Israel was founded, and the cartoon and the PLO chairman's words were published before the "occupation" started.

And when the Arabs first attacked Israel, there had been no refugees either for the attackers to fight for.

 

 

on May 17, 2009

I know well the historical references that you offer, and rather than debating the reasons for the Gaza invasion, let me ask two questions:

1) Is Hamas more or less powerful than before the invasion?

2) How do expect Hesbollah to do in the forthcoming elections in Lebanon, to gain or lose seats?

YNET News offered the following headline on MArch 9th, "Hamas' popularity rises after Israel's Gaza war, Poll shows Islamist group's leader Haniyeh would beat Palestinian President Abbas if elections were held today; however 71 percent of Palestinians believe they are worse off than they were before IDF offensive." But perhaps you hold a different opinion. Former Defense Minister Ehud BaraK said that Israel had accomplished its goals, so some felt that Israel had achieved a victory, but here thousands of miles away, I don't think that most American Jews share that opinion.

Again, this article was about American Jews. Israel receives a well-documented $2.5 billion in annual aid from the United States and an additional $1.5 billion in private funds each year.  See http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/US_aid_to_Israel.gif 

Israel seems intent on testing the limits of our (the Jewish American community, I mean) love for you. The second Lebanon invasion seemed ill-conceived to say the least, but Gaza....any rational person knew that nothing good would come of it and indeed, nothing has.

 

on May 17, 2009

1) Is Hamas more or less powerful than before the invasion?

2) How do expect Hesbollah to do in the forthcoming elections in Lebanon, to gain or lose seats?

I don't see how either question relates.  Do you seriously believe Hamas & Hesbollah would be any more disposed to living in peace with Israel had Gaza not been invaded?  Do you seriously believe that Hamas & Hesbollah derive their 'power' from the will of the Palestinian people?

on May 18, 2009

I know well the historical references that you offer, and rather than debating the reasons for the Gaza invasion, let me ask two questions:

1) Is Hamas more or less powerful than before the invasion?

It depends. In Egypt they are less powerful now as that British fascist who was trying to send help to Hamas found out. In Gaza they will always be as powerful as the people there want them to be and there is nothing Israel can do about it except permit Hamas to kill Jews. But that's the one thing Israel cannot do.

Hamas have certainly lost a lot of money and ammo and things came to light that really helped Israel. Public opinion in Italy and Germany changed and many countries had to choose sides. And surprisingly many chose Israel's side most prominently Germany and Egypt.

What makes Hamas powerful is not Israel's military actions but Hamas' western supporters. Among Palestinian Arabs Hamas is really not as popular as among western anti-Semites (sorry: anti-Zionists).

 

2) How do expect Hesbollah to do in the forthcoming elections in Lebanon, to gain or lose seats?

They will win seats because the Lebanese are nuts.

I have found that if you ask the Arabs whether they want war or peace, they will always vote for war.

Israel won diplomatically in the last conflict when the UN had to admit that the UN were lying about Israel targeting UN schools but lost on the Arab street because western support for Hamas made Hamas look strong.

There is an assumption that the Arab street turns against Israel whenever Israel reacts violently. This is not true. The Arab street respects strength and turns against Israel when Israel appears weak. The Arab street are predators.

 

 

on May 18, 2009

"I have found that if you ask the Arabs whether they want war or peace, they will always vote for war."

And with that one sentence, you have captured exactly why Israel is losing the support of members of the American Jewish community.

There is no acceptance of responsibility for failed policies. (Referencing your earlier statement "When Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza and built a fence around it" as an example of a policy doomed to fail.) You look at the response to Gaza and in stead of seeing that Israel's actions made the terrorists stronger, an outcome that is pretty much indisputable, you say that those people are "nuts." You add broad generalizations like "The Arab street are predators."

Once again, understand the context in which I wrote this article. American Jews are a major financial supporter of Israel, both through our tax dollars and through our private contributions. I year's past, I have personally been an enthusiastic supporter. This year, I was a shall we say reluctant supporter. if it wasn't for my involvement with groups like Israel's Peace Now (http://www.peacenow.org.il/site/en/homepage.asp) and Brit Tzedek (http://www.btvshalom.org/) I mght not have been a supporter at all.

Again, you have the right to your opinion. But i have the right to chose where my money goes.

on May 18, 2009

"I have found that if you ask the Arabs whether they want war or peace, they will always vote for war."

And with that one sentence, you have captured exactly why Israel is losing the support of members of the American Jewish community.

We are losing their support because we are too honest?

What do you want me to do? Lie?

Ok, here we go: I don't believe the Lebanese will vote for war. I believe they want peace and will vote against a party that advocates war with Israel.

Is that better? Will it do anything to help?

 

There is no acceptance of responsibility for failed policies. (Referencing your earlier statement "When Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza and built a fence around it" as an example of a policy doomed to fail.) You look at the response to Gaza and in stead of seeing that Israel's actions made the terrorists stronger, an outcome that is pretty much indisputable, you say that those people are "nuts." You add broad generalizations like "The Arab street are predators."

If you look at the history of the conflict you will notice that the terrorists always grew stronger, regardless of what Israel did. Hamas grew stronger in Gaza when Israel withdrew and then again when Israel attacked. And yes, the Arab street are predators. And if you asked Arabs they would probably confirm it. Everyone is afraid of the extremists, not just Jews but Arabs too. (Heck, in Iraq a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of an anti-Israel demonstration.* And you don't think those people are nuts?)

The only thing that ever made terrorists weaker was the invasion of Iraq. The PLO totally collapsed after losing their last and most prominent backer, Saddam Hussein. (Similarly Sri Lanka's total victory over the "Tamil Tigers" made those terrorists weaker too.)

If Israel is losing the support of American Jews because Israel's enemies want war, there is not really anything we can do but question why some in the Jewish community in America want middle-eastern Jews (who do NOT have the luxury of waiting the conflict out) to make concessions to those who want to murder them.

Sharon's Gaza policy failed. That was accepted and hence Israel attacked Gaza again.

And from what I hear from Sderot, that helped a bit.

It seems to me that you want Israel to continue to pursue policies that fail and not pursue policies that succeed. And basically Israel has the choice between your money and defending herself in ways that always worked.

The fact that Arabs tend to vote for war is not something you can ignore just because it doesn't sound nice. And it's not something only Israel has to deal with. Ask any non-Arab ethnic group in the middle east what their experience has been with Arabs. You will find that _war_ is their experience.

We cannot solve this problem by giving in or by not mentioning it.

And no, offering peace does NOT make them vote for peace. Egypt and Jordan made peace when it became clear to them that they wouldn't win. (In fact the King of Jordan was looking for any excuse to make peace as he always wanted peace.) But those were decisions made by dictators, not the Arab street.

 

*http://www.gulfnews.com/Region/Iraq/10270634.html

 A suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up on Sunday amid a crowd of demonstrators in northern Iraq who were protesting Israel's airstrikes on Gaza, killing one demonstrator and wounding 16 others, Iraqi police said.

...

"The ones who targeted our brothers in Gaza are the same who targeted us in Mosul today. They are agents of Israel," Mahjoub said.

Incidentally, Mosul is mostly famous for Arab terrorists hunting down and killing Assyrian Christians. THEY ARE NUTS. To say anything else would be a lie.

(The Iraqi government "condemned" Israel's attack. They should have condemned the war when Hamas started it. But somehow attacking Jews is always OK with that crowd.)

 

on May 18, 2009

Shalom Larry, This is a great article.

Sadly, this is actually the first I head about Jewish American Heritage Month.  I know there isn't a large population in this area and could contribute to my ignorance.  I am not aware of anything in my community regarding the celebration of JAHM, maybe I can do somehing next year?

Toda Raba for this article!

The only thing recent I've been involved with is Yom Hashua.  There is a group that was promoting a peaceful march on this day that would end with having speakers that are Holocaust Survivors.  I wasn't able to march but did get out and help promote it.

Shalom

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