On April 20, 2006, President George W. Bush inaugurated Jewish American Heritage Month, stating that: “The faith and hard work of Jewish Americans have played an integral role in shaping the cultural fabric of America. During Jewish American Heritage Month, we celebrate the vital contributions of Jewish Americans to our Nation.”
Indeed, there has been a Jewish presence in America since the colonial period. The most famous first communities of Jews settled in New York City; Charleston, South Carolina; and Newport, Rhode Island. Since then, Jews have thrived in the United States, developing their own communities while being an integral part of the development of American society as a whole.
In religious life, the American Jewish community has created some unique brands of Judaism. While Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism all have roots outside of the United States, each has formed its own style in America. Along with the larger denominations, American Jewry has even developed some new movements: Reconstructionist Judaism, Humanistic Judaism, and Renewal Judaism.
If you were to ask Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, for a list of famous Jews, there is no doubt that names like Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Seinfeld, and the Marx Brothers would come up. Jews have had a remarkable influence on Hollywood and American popular culture as a whole. Perceptions of Jewish life and culture in America have been highly influenced by movies, televisions, books, and–more recently–the internet.
The American Jewish community has also suffered through tough times. When Eastern European immigrants rushed to America (and especially New York City), at the turn of the 20th century, they faced difficult living conditions, poverty, and anti-Semitism. Though we tend to think of American Jews as a relatively successful people, some of these problems still exist today.
For more information about American Jewish Heritage Month and American Jewish history, check out the following:
MyJewishLearning American History Index
Links to MJL articles on American Jewish history.
Jewish American Heritage Month- Official Site
The government site dedicated to the annual commemoration.
American Jewish Historical Society
The American Jewish Historical Society’s holdings include more than 20 million documents, 50,000 books, paintings and other objects that bear witness to the remarkable contributions of the American Jewish community to life in the Americas from the 16th century to the present.
American Jewish Archives
The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives is committed to preserving a documentary heritage of the religious, organizational, economic, cultural, personal, social and family life of American Jewry.
Jews in America: Our Story
An online exhibit on American history from the Center for Jewish History.
Jewish Women’s Archive
The most extensive collection of material on American Jewish women on the web.