With 7.6 million Jews currently living in America, it is no wonder that the country must be filled with Jewish culture, heritage, and history. Jews have contributed to American society throughout the colonial period, the height of 20th century immigration, and continue to thrive today. While there are endless locations in the United States that serve delicious matzo-ball soup or celebrate Jewish culture, in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we are sharing 6 Iconic Sites that Celebrate Jewish American Heritage. Lower East Side Tenement Museum Have you ever wondered about what life was like for immigrants in the 20th century? Experience if for yourself at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum! Located at 97 and 103 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, the museum is truly a National Historic Site. The Museum's two historical tenement buildings were home to an estimated 15,000 people, from over 20 nations, between 1863 and 2011. This museum depicts the lives of the previous immigrant tenants and includes restored apartments and shops open daily for public tours, a documentary film, tours with costumed interpreters portraying the building's former residents, tastings of their communities' typical foods, and neighborhood walks. The museum also has an extensive collection of educational programs promoting tolerance and historical perspective on the immigrant experience. Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island Built in 1763, Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island, is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States. It also happens to be the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era, and the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America. In 1946, it was declared a National Historic Site. The first congregation was made up of Sephardic Jews, who are believed to have come via the West Indies, where they participated in the triangular trade along with Dutch and English settlements. Today, the Touro Synagogue offers prayer services on the Sabbath and is open to visitors through tours. The synagogue also offers exhibits and education about Jewish life in Colonial America. Katz’s Delicatessen, New York's Lower East Side Katz's Delicatessen, originally named Iceland Brothers in name of the founders, opened in 1888. Only in 1910 was the deli officially bought out and renamed. This delicatessen served the Lower East side throughout the earlier part of the twentieth century, a time when the area was home to millions of newly immigrated families. At the time, Katz’s was a focal point for congregating. Today, the now famous spread on the delectable sandwiches, platters, and meats at Katz's brings thousands of visitors from around the world weekly. The deli prides itself on having the best cuts of beef and other fine foods and are also free of chemicals or additives. The deli's finished products can take up to 30 days to cure, unlike commercially prepared corned beef that is often pressure-injected in just 36 hours. Sherith Israel, San Francisco, California Established during America’s Gold Rush period, Congregation Sherith Israel is one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. It’s history began in 1849 when young, Jewish pioneers from around the world gathered for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Despite the lack of a building, rabbi, or Torah, the pioneers worshiped together again during Passover and the High Holy Days in 1850. They also formed societies to aid the needy and bought land for a cemetery. In 1851, the permanent congregation was built. Today, Sherith Israel is a congregation widely known for its innovative approach to worship and lifecycle celebrations and is part of the movement of Reform Judaism. It’s historic sanctuary building is one of San Francisco's most prominent architectural landmarks and attracts visitors from all over the world. [caption id="attachment_22869" align="alignnone" width="640"] Sanfranman59, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons[/caption] National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum founded in 1976. Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University led the development of the core exhibit for the museum. The museum collections include over 30,000 objects that range from the Colonial period to the present day. Exhibits at the museum focus on the lives and experiences of Jews in America. There have also been past exhibitions centering on famous Jewish-Americans, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Leonard Bernstein. [caption id="attachment_22868" align="alignnone" width="640"] Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons[/caption] Canter’s Deli, Los Angeles, California After moving from its original location that was founded in 1931, Canter's Deli is a Jewish-style delicatessen in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, California. It has been frequented by many notable movie stars and celebrities. The restaurant has continued to serve traditional food items, including: lox and bagels, corned beef, matzoh ball soup, and challah bread. Canter's has remained open 24/7, except on the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Note: Canter's Deli is not certified kosher, as it is open on Saturdays and offers many non-kosher menu items. [caption id="attachment_22867" align="alignnone" width="640"] ChildofMidnight at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]
10 ways the month can become the best answer to the anti-Semitism epidemic sweeping the US May is American Heritage Month. Detail of Persin, Max. Farewell my dear parents Jewish folk song. Joseph P. Katz, New York, New York, 1920. (Library of Congress) May 1 marked the start of Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), a month dedicated to highlighting the significant achievements that Jewish contributors have made to American culture and history. Yet, as in years past, a few days before the official launch at the White House, it is still one of America’s best kept secrets! You hear very little about it in the Jewish media, even worse from Jewish organizations, Jewish museums, and Jewish educational institutions. That lapse of attention has not gone unnoticed in the past which is why every few years pundits write articles with such titles as “Why Does No One Care About Jewish Heritage Month?” This year, more than ever, American Jews should truly care. It is perhaps the best answer to the epidemic of hate and antisemitism that has recently swept the United States. Until now the variety of responses (condemnations, vigils, etc.) by the Jewish community to these threats has been reactive. These actions are strong, but there is another, more positive and proactive approach we could take, that is, making a concerted effort to celebrate JAHM. JAHM ceremony at the White House in 2012 (Source: Pete Souza / White House Archives) Why can JAHM be an effective answer? Since hatred stems from fear, and people fear what they don’t understand, cultural education is still the strongest antidote to hate. This is why Congress set up a governmental mechanism to commemorate the contribution of different ethnic heritages (Indian, Irish, Jewish, etc.) to the story of the United States. Typically, the government sponsors a government website dedicated to the month, an archive of virtual exhibitions, and a kick off ceremony at the White House. We just finished celebrating African-American Heritage Month in February and Irish-American Heritage Month in March. It is clear that such a dedicated time of education and cultural activity can teach citizens about a culture to which they might not normally be exposed. Thus, the JAHM in May is a golden opportunity to promote and highlight the achievements and contributions of Jewish Americans to the American narrative. Until now, unfortunately, the lack of promotion of the JAHM has rendered the event a severely underutilized asset. To go further, we need a stronger top-down approach to unify our work to honor the story of American Jews. Clockwise: Betty Friedan – a writer, activist, and a leading figure in the women’s movement in the United States (Source: Fred Palumbo / Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection); Dr. Gertrude B. Elion – Nobel Prize winner in Physiology and Medicine (Source: WikiMedia Commons); Estée Lauder – co-founder of world renowned company, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Source: Bill Sauro / Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram and the Sun); Joe Lieberman – US politician, and former Senator to Connecticut (Source: WikiMedia Commons). Fortunately, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Every September, a European Jewish heritage organization (the AEPJ) celebrates Jewish Heritage week throughout Europe, and their incredible annual celebrations are truly the gold standard. In 2016, they logged about 126,000 visitors to 1,245 activities in 363 cities across Europe. We need only look towards our European brethren for inspiration and clear directive on how we can improve our efforts. It is important to note that a good percentage of the visitors were NON-JEWS! Here are 10 specific ways the US can step up to the plate this May, taken straight from the Old World’s playbook: 1. Plan far ahead: The European event is planned nearly a year in advance. As late as March 2017, the official website for the US May heritage month still reflected old 2016 events. We must be much more advanced in our thinking if we are going to have any kind of far-reaching impact. 2. Choose a meaningful theme in a timely fashion: only on March 6, 2017, barely two months in advance, did the current JAHM management make an announcement that this year’s theme is the contribution of American Jews to medicine. An announcement of this order 1 1/2 months before the launch of an event of this magnitude is too little too late. Curators need a good 6-12 months to research, organize and produce meaningful exhibits. 3. Appoint regional coordinators: Each observing region in Europe has it’s own coordinator (about 30 coordinators in total), and America should be no different. Such a coordinator would serve as a liaison between local municipalities and the national movement, as well as to foster cross-pollination and exposure within their own territory. 4. Create a strong, centralized website: The European website is clean, engaging, and, most of all, consistently updated. It provides easy access points for communities who’d like to get involved, clear avenues for assuming local or regional leadership, and a thorough detailing of events. Such accessible infrastructure is one of the first necessary steps to building a strong and enduring event cycle. 5. Expand the number of cultural heritage professionals in the national steering committee: A movement about cultural heritage simply cannot be effectively conceived or executed without the guidance of pertinent professionals representing diverse areas of the country. Europe has consistently elevated such professionals to leadership positions, and it shows in the heart and foresight behind its annual commemorations. America has no shortage of such professionals, and must make use of them to its best advantage. Synchronize global activities. (left: JAHM, right: AEPJ) 6. Produce annual outcome reports: Was 2016 a success? Was 2015? Does anyone know? How do we measure it? Unfortunately, the answer in the US is that we don’t measure it. The European effort includes annual evaluation reports of the successes and shortcomings of the year’s activities, including a variety of metrics and outcomes. It’s only by turning a critical eye on what we’ve accomplished and where we can improve that such improvement could be possible. 7. Invite Jewish organizations and corporation to be activestakeholders: The American Jewish community already has strong, wide-reaching infrastructure in place. Few localities are untouched by wider Jewish organizations. By inviting these umbrella organizations to be stakeholders in the event, many other pillars of the month will naturally fall into place. By not issuing this invitation, we also risk alienating those who could be our strongest leaders. Europe has demonstrated the importance and doability of uniting various Jewish communal arms for a concerted cause. 8. Institute a pay-to-play methodology for issuing high-profile invites: For some years (before substantial budgetary cuts), the White House held a special reception for Jewish American Heritage month. Recognizing and including those who put the sweat in (whether organizationally or financially) is an obvious and necessary way to encourage greater independent leadership in the movement. The more you “pay” into the production of the event, the more you should get to “play” at its culminating moments. 9. Synchronize global activities: Many thanks to Assumpcio Hostas de Rebes, an AEJP leader, for this suggestion. Why not have the American, Canadian, and European festivities occur at the same time, with the same theme? This would encourage cross-pollination of ideas, tourism, and create a camaraderie and united front among global Jewish communities. As Anshel Feiffer of Haaretz noted, this recent spate of anti-Semitism “could be a pivotal moment, not only for American Jews, but for the creation of a new global Jewish identity.” This is our chance to come together. 10. Remember forgotten heroes: Every culture highlights its deepest values and greatest achievements through memorials to its heroes, and Judaism is no exception. Curiously, however, Jewish American heroes are relatively unknown compared to those in Europe. Kudos to the Schusterman Foundation for pushing this idea. By the way, who is your Jewish American hero? What are your ideas for Jewish American Heritage Month? Let me know in the comments below or email your thoughts here. U.S. and Israeli flags. (Source: Maj Stephanie Addison / Wikimedia Commons) Let me make it clear: there is leadership in place to make this work, if the highest echelon can give a strong initial push. My organization, World Jewish Heritage is ready and eager to contribute to making JAHM a shining example of how promoting cultural heritage can mitigate hate. Identification of the contributions of members of different American populations, such as Irish, Italian, African-American and Jewish heroes, makes everyone understand that the United States was built on the backs of immigrants who represent a diverse palate of cultures and ideas. It also makes us understand that American cultural heritage is part and parcel of a bigger collective heritage. This message could not come at a more crucial time when anti-semitism is running rampant in our society, and we must decide to take the reins. The road to capturing the imagination of this generation and generations to come is to shine a light on the sterling examples of our past.