Saturday, February 22, 2014

Presidential Proclamation--Jewish American Heritage Month

      Since before our Nation's founding, America's shores have been a safe harbor for people seeking shelter, hope, and new lives free from persecution.  Here, people of all faiths have broken bread, come together, and built a better future for their families.  The Jewish story is intertwined with the American story    one of overcoming great hardship, and one of commitment to building a more just world.  This month, we embrace and celebrate the vast contributions Jewish Americans have made to our country.
      Seeking a brighter future, a small band of Jewish refugees came to this land more than three centuries ago, to a place called New Amsterdam.  Hundreds of years later, as Holocaust survivors and families caught behind the Iron Curtain made their way to America, their perseverance in the face of unimaginable tragedy inspired the world and proved that the Jewish people will not be defeated.  Many endured bigotry even here, reminding us that we must continue to fight prejudice and violence at home and around the globe.  In this spirit, President Truman recognized the small, fledgling nation of Israel within minutes of its creation.  To this day, we continue to foster an unbreakable partnership with Israel, and we remain committed to pursuing peace in the region and ensuring Israel's security.
      From those first days in New Amsterdam, Jewish Americans have dedicated their innovation, creativity, and hearts to the greater good    contributing scientific accomplishments, pioneering works of literature and musical genius, and performing distinguished service in our Nation's military.  Jewish Americans have defended our country since the days of the American Revolution as devoted service members and chaplains, and they continue to serve with distinction in our Armed Forces.
      Nearly 70 years ago, during World War II, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester suffered an explosion at sea while carrying almost a thousand soldiers and civilian workers.  On board were four Army chaplains    two Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish.  While the ship sank, the four chaplains gave their own life jackets to four men without any, calmed the wounded, and preached strength to the survivors, linking arms and praying together as the ship submerged.  In a time of great need, these chaplains showed that their shared commitment to the lives of others was stronger than any division of faith or background.
      This same spirit is found in the countless Jewish Americans who, through their every day actions, work to provide a better life for future generations by joining hands with all who seek equality and progress.  This month, we remember that the history and unique identity of Jewish Americans is part of the grand narrative of our country, forged in the friendships and shared wisdom between people of different faiths.
      NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2011 as Jewish American Heritage Month.  I call upon all Americans to visit to learn more about the heritage and contributions of Jewish Americans and to observe this month with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.
      IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of April, in the year two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

Jewish-American Heritage Month: It's All in the History 

Repost from May 4, 2010. 

So lo and behold I am reading the news and guess what, I find out that May is Jewish-American Heritage Month. Fancy that, an entire month that people are supposed to sit down and learn about the history of the Jewish people. Of course, having grown up Jewish I sort of lived Jewish Heritage Month every day, but these are not lessons for me but for the nation as a whole. I kinda like it. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t. But then again I have discussed the global growth in anti-Semitism, so why should I be surprised that it is here in the United States? Why should I be shocked that people recent a Jewish Heritage Month? In fact a huge bone of contention has to do with the removal of the phrase, “in the year of our Lord,” I guess deference to the fact that the Jewish people do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah and respecting that fact in proclaiming Jewish Heritage Month seems to aggravate people. Intolerance just makes my skin crawl.

I can tell you that I never resented any "History" month. I quite frankly reveled in the idea that everyone should have a month or if there are too many groups, at least a week maybe. We could always share you know. It’s not as if every ethnic group that landed on the shores of the United States did not have some hand in the creation and development of this nation. The founding fathers did not do it all alone. Those who stubbornly hold to the idea that this nation is the brain child and the blood child of only white men descended from British colonists has a new history lesson coming.

Yes, those that wrote the US Constitution were all white Christian men, but they also deviated from European Christian philosophy or they would never have broken from England. The philosophy that they rejected is called the Divine Right of Kings and it was adhered to by every nation-state in Europe at the time. It was how things were done for centuries. It was how life remained the way it was for centuries. The Divine Right of Kings, held, and still holds, that the monarch is consecrated by God, in the same manner as the Biblical Kings of Judea (yes, Judea until the year 135 C.E. when Rome renames the province Palestine (in honor of the Jew's ancient enemy the Philistines) in punishment for the Bar Kochba revolt. Where do those idiots, who refuse to acknowledge Jewish historical attachments to the area, think the words, Jews, Judaism,Jewish come from? What, we drew lots and these were the titles that won?) and hence since they are God’s chosen they cannot be overthrown, disenfranchised nor disrespected(meaning you have to do as they decide). To reject this political tenet was to reject Christianity itself as it was known until that time. The American Revolution was for all tense and purposes a break with Christianity as it had been practiced for centuries; so for some to go around saying that Christianity inspired our revolution is patently false. No, this does not mean that the founding fathers were not religious men, they were. They believed in a Christian God, well most did, except some like Jefferson who was basically a Deist. However, what it means is that our founding fathers, who were the offspring of enlightenment philosophers, Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, all patently irreligious men, charted a new course. For the first time in recorded human history religion was not the guiding force behind nation-building at all. In fact, if anything the American Revolution was a total rejection of theretofore accepted theocratic law.

The truth is that every ethnic group that came to the shores of the United States, and those that greeted them on those shores added to the culture that is the United States. Everyone came here with hopes and expectations of a better life, and while our ancestors gladly joined in the present American culture, they added a bit of the home country to the mix. Each ethnic group gave to this country that little bit of uniqueness that is America and I for one, think that it is high time that we all recognize that we as a nation of immigrants built upon the foundation that is the Constitution, developed, nursed it and saw it through its growth spurts. Every ethnic group helped build this nation and deserves a time of recognition and a time of respect.

Many complain that this is just another form of identity politics. That it takes away from the idea of a united America. But we are all different. We come from different places, with families with different experiences, but that does not stop us from wanting to be a part of this nation. Why should not an African-American child, a Jewish-American child, a Hispanic-American child, a name-your-background-American child be taught about the wonderful additions that their ancestors made to this nation or even to the world at large. Why shouldn’t every child be allowed to feel the pride in whom they are and where they come from? Why does this frighten so many people? It baffles me.

I remember a book that I read as a child called Americans All. It no longer exists, but it was a child’s book about the history of the Jewish people in the United States. One of the first people I read about was a man called Chaim Solomon. He along with the Gratz family of Philadelphia helped finance a large part of the American Revolution. He had been promised to be paid back, but never asked for reimbursement. Never needed it. Never wanted it. He received what he wanted and that was freedom for this nation and place for those who were persecuted to be able to come. He got his wish and then some I think. I can’t tell you how proud a ten year old child was in reading about this man. Even when the classroom teacher made fun of me for being so excited, I never gave up my pride. She wouldn’t believe the book, and told me that I could believe what I wanted and she would believe what she wanted. BITCH. I also, along with my sister, happened to be the only Jews in my school. (Believe me this is only one of many anti-Semitic incidents thrown at me during my years in public school)Oh, and wouldn’t you know, somehow the universe had it planned that I would marry a descendent of that Chaim Solomon. Meanwhile antisemitism doesn't ever end. Here is a story about my youngest and antisemitism.

This episode is one reason why we need months like Jewish-American Heritage month. No child should ever be told their history is not important. No child should ever be demeaned because of race, ethnicity, religion or creed. No child should ever be made to feel that they do not belong to the nation of their birth. We all made this nation what it is today. We all have a right to claim her. We are all the inheritors of the founding fathers; it does not matter if our ancestors go back to the revolution or arrived on shore today. We are entitled to be proud of our hyphenated heritages. We are Americans All.

So to that teacher from so many years ago and to those who resent Jewish-American Heritage Month, especially because it shows the Jewish people in a positive light- Bite Me.

By the way, here's a little ditty, you might recognize,written by one of those Jewish-Americans, called Irving Berlin: