Over the last several years, we have witnessed a rise in white supremacist sentiment throughout the United States and as such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this has included a significant uptick in antisemitism. Our Eugene community hasn’t been exempt either. Most recently, several Eugene residents were targeted with anti-Semitic and anti-trans flyers in a clear act of intimidation. According to a report by the Register Guard, the flyers focused on the number of Jewish members in President Joe Biden’s administration, which clearly seizes on the anti-Semitic trope of Jewish people wielding outsized power in world affairs. Furthermore, this most recent anti-Semitic flyer campaign came on the heels of an armed man taking people hostage in a synagogue in Texas in January.
In the face of this violence and harassment, the importance of Jewish American Heritage Month becomes even more apparent. The celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month is actually fairly recent. On April 20, 2006, President George W. Bush proclaimed the month of May for this celebration of Jewish American contributions. Efforts to recognize JAHM were led by the Jewish Museum of Florida and South Florida Jewish community leaders. They successfully advocated, which led to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Arlene Specter introducing resolutions that were passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
One of the key factors for designating May to recognize JAHM was the 350th Anniversary of American Jewish History in May 2004. This, in itself, is a powerful example of how culturally specific celebrations and observations can be the catalyst for further large-scale meaningful action.
In 2022, these celebrations and societal circumstances should also be the catalyst for bringing Jewish issues back into the fold of equity and belonging alongside other targeted groups. This is also very much in line with the rich history of people fighting for justice in the US, such as the role of many Jewish activists in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s also evident in the work of peace activists like Ephraim Isaac and Rabbi Michael Lerner.
During Jewish American Heritage Month 2022 at the University of Oregon, join us in exploring and uplifting the nearly 370 year history of Jewish contributions to all aspects of American society. One place to start is by perusing the various resources available through the official Jewish American Heritage Month website, which include various collections from the Library of Congress, an extensive audio and video archive, and resources especially for educators.
We look forward to continuing to build on this celebration both throughout the UO campus, Oregon Hillel and the Lane County community!