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05/04/2023 09:29:38 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

How many of you know that this month is designated “Jewish American Heritage Month”? I did a bit of research, and learned that in May of 2004, the 350th anniversary of American Jewish history was celebrated, organized by the Commission for Commemorating 350 Years of American Jewish History. In 2006, President George Bush proclaimed May as “Jewish American Heritage Month”, and this has continued since. It is great that our Jewish heritage is celebrated in the United States, but it does raise the question of what to do about it. How should the Jewish community respond, and, how should each of each respond individually?

Before I dare suggest answers, it might be prudent to reflect upon a definition of Jewish heritage. How might we define it? Most dictionaries define heritage as something handed down from the past. What past are we talking about here? Is it the experiences of prior generations in America, or, is it the even lengthier past of 4,000 years?

The foundation for all that we say and do is the Torah, so that is really our heritage. The words and deeds of subsequent generations are all based upon this precious legacy that has endured. In last week’s Torah portion we read the immortal phrase “Love your neighbor as yourself” [Leviticus 19:18]. Creating organizations that help others is a natural outgrowth of the words of the Torah. Brilliant expressions of Jewish creativity through the arts is something to be proud of. Engaging in ways that promote the betterment of society is a Jewish value. All of these are part of our heritage. They must be celebrated, passed down as an inheritance to each generation, and shared with our friends and neighbors as a statement of what it means to be Jewish.

While Judaism is readily recognized as a religion, it is far more; we are a religious civilization. The teachings of the Torah continue to motivate us not merely in terms of worship, but in the creation of art, music, dance and liturgy connected to and through worship. The observance of kashrut has led to creativity in cooking, great kosher restaurants and cookbooks, and fine wine. The imperative to remember the stranger, the widow and the orphan is the foundation of so many organizations that do just that. And these are but a few examples. I know that you can think of many more.

I am proud to be Jewish, proud of my ancestors’ contributions to the United States, proud of the contributions that are being made by the minute each and every day by so many Jews. Jewish American Heritage Month can and should be the opportunity to just smile, be proud of whom you are and revel in the achievements of our people. It should also be a moment to consider how each of us is contributing to that sacred heritage. What does your singular link in the chain that goes back four thousand years and reaches out to eternity look like? Be strong. Be proud. Be Jewish.

Sat, December 9 2023 26 Kislev 5784