Why Jewish American Heritage Month?

Jewish American Heritage Month is observed each May in the United States, celebrating the significant contributions of Jewish Americans to the nation's history and culture. Established nationally in 2006, this month honors the enduring heritage and remarkable achievements of Jewish Americans. These individuals not only sought refuge from persecution and helped forge the foundational values of the U.S., such as religious freedom, but also actively participated in pivotal societal moments—from fighting in the Civil War to advocating for civil rights.

In commemorating this month, it is essential to also reflect on the darker periods of Jewish history, marked by genocide, pogroms, and persecution. Today, a concerning rise in antisemitism manifests through violence against synagogues, vandalism targeting Jewish businesses, and harassment in educational institutions. These acts not only affect the Jewish community but also threaten the fabric of our diverse society.

Despite historical adversities, Jewish Americans continue to thrive and contribute to global culture through their resilience, creativity, and innovation. We invite you to explore more about the Jewish American experience, understanding that education is a powerful tool against intolerance.

Who Are American Jews?

The first Jewish settlers in what is now the United States were Sephardic Jews who arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654. Today, Jewish Americans comprise a diverse ethno-religious group, making up 2.2% of the U.S. population. They include Jews of Color, who represent about 8% of the Jewish community, reflecting the multiple identities within Jewish life. Notably, the 2020 Pew Research Center study reveals varied self-identifications within this community, emphasizing the multifaceted nature of Jewish identity that spans religious, cultural, and ethnic dimensions.

Learn more here.

A Brief Jewish History

The Jewish People are an ethno-religious group and nation originating in the Land of Israel, which is the current location of the State of Israel. Jews lived under Jewish self-rule in the Land of Israel for centuries in ancient times. However, as various empires conquered the land, they engaged in mass expulsions of Jewish residents, the final and most comprehensive of which was carried out by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. While a small number of Jews always remained in the Land of Israel, as a result of these expulsions from the Land of Israel, Jews settled throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, Asia, and Europe. 

In later centuries, they also made their way to North and South America in significant numbers. These communities of Jews outside of the Land of Israel are known as the Jewish Diaspora. From the Middle Ages until the mid-twentieth century, Jews were periodically expelled from some of these places in the Diaspora as well. Until there was a State of Israel, such Jews often had no place to go.

Where Can You Find Local Resources?

Jewish Federation of Orange County: links included on this page have resources aimed at enhancing curriculum, campus climate and teaching materials dedicated to understanding the Holocaust. These resources are designed to support educators, administrators, and learners in fostering a more inclusive and informed educational environment.

Student To Student: a classroom-based experiential program that brings Jewish and non-Jewish middle and high school students together to learn about Judaism through personal storytelling.

Holocaust Education Center of Orange County: home to over 700 artifacts from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp (by renowned trailblazer and survivor Mel Mermelstein) is becoming a destination point for middle and high school students and the greater Orange County community coming to learn about the history and lessons of the Holocaust.

Institute for Curriculum Services: ICS provides K-12 educators with free professional development and standards-driven resources on Judaism and Jewish history.

Orange County Jewish Historical Society: learn about 165 years of Jewish Orange County.

Professional Development Opportunities

All month long, Institute for Curriculum Services will be offering professional learning experiences such as our one-hour Live Virtual Workshops and two events in partnership with the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History: an exciting virtual webinar with author Dara Horn (People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present) and a session titled “Stories that Shaped a Nation: Jewish Lives in America”. 

May 1: Jewish Americans - Identity, History, Experience

May 8: Teaching about Judaism

May 15: Jewish Americans - Identity, History, Experience

May 22: Jewish Immigration to the United States

May 29: Jewish Americans - Identity, History, Experience