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Miriam Leah Epstein Preil
musical neshama

Jewish American Heritage Month? No Thank You!

This past week President Joe Biden, as previous presidents since George W. Bush, made A Proclamation on Jewish American Heritage Month, 2023:  “This month, we celebrate the enduring heritage of Jewish Americans, whose values, culture, and contributions have shaped our character as a Nation.”

My first reaction was how absurd. Don’t get me wrong, I am ever thankful to be an American.  I hold my country in great reverence as a proud and devoted American.  Maybe they think that we’ll be assuaged by this proclamation and their claims to have done so much to help stop antisemitism; or maybe they believe they’ll gain politically, since it appears to be a huge step towards acceptance, tolerance, diversity, __-fill in the politically correct word, as if that will make things better in society and for Jews.  I just don’t agree.  Has anything changed since this Jewish American Heritage Month was declared? Are Jews welcome wherever they go?  Has antisemitism in America disappeared or at least decreased? NO.  ADL reports in 2022, 3,697 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States.  This is a 36% increase from the 2,717 incidents tabulated in 2021 and the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979!   FBI 2021 Hate Crimes reports a total of 1,590 incidents related to religion were reported; the largest categories of religion included: Anti-Jewish incidents: 51.4% of religion-related incidents — versus: Anti-Sikh: 11.6%, Anti-Islamic: 9.6%, Anti-Catholic: 6.1%,  Anti-Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Other): 3.1%.

Adversity, Prejudice, Persecution

The Proclamation vaguely describes this Jewish American Heritage Month to be based on “values, culture, and contributions”.  It rests on the idea of Jewish endurance from persecution.  Read carefully the wording:  “For generations, the story of the Jewish people — one of resilience, faith, and hope in the face of adversity, prejudice and persecution — has been woven into the fabric of our Nation’s story…”   We’re all victims after all.  This completely omits the core uniqueness of Jewish identity, what it means to be a Jew.  In other words, why doesn’t it even acknowledge what Judaism actually is, or name the values it claims to honor?  It does mention some contributions Jews made to America, but this proclamation defines us based on what we’ve endured and survived, not who we are.  Where is any mention of a People who are God-fearing who gave the world monotheism?

We don’t need Jewish American Heritage Month.  If every group, “victim”, disenfranchised, minority, or whatever cause célèbre gets their own dedicated month, after a while it only diminishes the significance of each one.  It blurs and detracts from the recognition that should be dedicated to unique individuals and groups.  Frankly, I don’t really think any group needs a whole month set aside.  A day, maybe.  Give due honor and observe the day sincerely.

Honestly, it’s yet again another form of assimilation and acculturation for a Jewish American Heritage month to be set aside.

Why?  Because it’s part of fitting in with the rest, just like everybody else gets a month, give one to the Jewish Americans.  Why not give anyone a month?  That is how it’s done.  Don’t believe it?  It puts us right up there with other groups who have designated months.  In fact, May is shared as:  Older Americans Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, National Foster Care Month.  So what’s the big deal to have Jewish American Heritage Month?  If it’s so special it would stand alone. Seriously, it is to be shared with Fitness and Sports month?

I prefer a proclamation and true action to thwart the adversity, prejudice and persecution.  Write a new chapter to be woven into the fabric of our Nation’s story!

The Jewish Proclamation of Time.  It’s not just a month!

Every moment of time holds significance for us.  As Jews, we live and observe from morning until night of every day a life full of Mitzvot, Commandments and good deeds.  Our prayers reflect everlasting devotion to God and our way of life.

Perhaps the most familiar of all, we have Shabbat.  We internalize the value of time with the knowledge of The Creator of the Universe Who endowed every day with meaning, culminating in our Sabbath.  It guides our lives and gives us purpose. We have Rosh Chodesh, on every new month we celebrate rebirth.  In fact throughout the year, all our Holy Days revolve around time!  As we remember and in many ways reenact our history, we appreciate and live in the present and look to the future.  Think of the Three Festivals:  The Holiday of Passover with Seder night telling and reliving the Exodus from Egypt.  Shavuot, The Feast of Weeks, when we literally count 7 weeks with a blessing each day of Omer, from Passover until Shavuot. Then we have the Sukkot Festival of Tabernacles, when we eat festive meals in the Sukkah temporary dwelling, as our ancestors did in the Desert. We have twelve months of living each and every day thankful to God.

We are a proud People and we are proud Americans.  This is our heritage.  We don’t need a month set aside for it.

CHAZAK!

Miriam Leah

About the Author
Miriam Leah Epstein Preil grew up in the midwest, but her heart has always been in Israel! She began playing piano by ear when she was six years old, and by age seven was already studying piano seriously. Her musicality and passion for music were remarkable from an early age. She and the piano are inseparable! Music fills her life and home. Miriam Leah has composed pieces for piano, piano and voice, and many Niggunim. Her poetry is unique, each poem stands on its own yet becomes greater within her collection of poems. All universal. She utilizes her writing to engage people in thought, stir discussion, share insights, support causes, bring forth truths, educate, and inspire souls. She has taught Judaics and Jewish music extensively in Jewish Day schools for many years. Miriam Leah combines her love of music and creative writing with her devotion to Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel, through her writing of Divrei Torah and advocating for Jewish values and Israel.
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