Jewish American Heritage Month Reflection

May 2023

Jewish American Heritage Month is an annual celebration of Jewish American achievements and contributions to the United States of America. The month is observed annually in the U.S. during the month of May and became recognized nationally in 2006. By celebrating heritage months, we learn about one another, we honor the richness of our diverse nation, and we strengthen the fabric of American society.

In celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, Williams & Connolly asked Associate Haley Wasserman and Senior Counsel Bruce Genderson to reflect on the importance of their identity and the importance of this heritage month being more widely observed.

“It’s easy to forget the many blessings that come with being different, since so often those differences can feel burdensome, isolating, or even shameful. When I fully embrace who I am and where I come from, I can appreciate all of the gifts that Judaism has given me. I descend from a rich and diverse lineage that has persevered through adversity for thousands of years.  That continuity begets connectedness – to community and strangers alike.  I am here today because of the courage of my ancestors. They were pioneers who moved from Europe to Canada in search of a better life for themselves as Jews. I am grateful to have been raised in a home steeped in culture and tradition. Those familiar songs, foods, and celebrations bring me to my roots no matter how far I have strayed. Judaism continues to guide me towards the principles of tikkum olam, “repairing the world.” It compels me through actions however small, to attempt to make the world a kinder, more just, tolerant, and peaceful place.”

-Haley Wasserman, Associate

With the recent dramatic increase in antisemitism and hate crimes against Jewish Americans, Jewish Heritage Month is a wonderful opportunity for our community and the country to learn more about the Jewish Community in the US and the contributions that Jewish Americans have made to the nation. All four of my grandparents immigrated to the US at the turn of the 20th Century from Eastern Europe as a result of vicious antisemitism in Czarist Russia, and all probably would have perished during WWII, which is what happened to many of their relatives, had they remained there. This is a common story, and my grandparents and parents were always so grateful for the opportunities this nation afforded them, and proud to be Jewish Americans.

Jewish Americans have served in government and the military, have won Nobel prizes, headed universities and corporations, made important medical advances, created and performed in enduring works of performing and visual art, written great American novels, and have advanced justice as lawyers, judges, numerous members of the Supreme Court and so much more. Jewish Americans have often been at the forefront of efforts to push America to live up to its promise as a nation that upholds freedom and justice for all. Like my parents and grandparents, I am proud of my dual American and Jewish heritage. I, and many Jews I know, consider ourselves fortunate that our Jewish values and our American values overlap and reinforce each other. This is not the case for Jews living in many other countries. That may well be why Jews have flourished in the United States, which has by far the largest Jewish community outside of Israel. 

It is important to understand that Jews are not just a religious group. There are many American Jews who do not believe in God, but still consider themselves to be Jewish. Jews often speak of themselves as a People. Nor are Jews strictly a racial group. There are Caucasian Jews from Europe, Black Jews from Ethiopia, brown Jews from India, Sephardic Jews from North Africa, and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East, Turkey and Iran. There are also Jews by choice of every race and ethnicity who have converted to Judaism. In Israel, Jews of European descent are in the minority; over half the Jews are Sephardic or Mizrahi. As a people, we have survived against all odds for over 3,500 years, during which time many powerful empires such as the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Roman and Greek empires dominated major parts of the world but then disappeared. I hope you’ll take the opportunity this month to learn more about our history, and about Jewish contributions to our country. One way to advance the ideals on which the United States was founded for every American is to learn more about each other, and taking the time to do so throughout the year during Jewish American Heritage Month, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, National Arab American Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, LGBTQ Pride Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a good place to start.”

-Bruce Genderson, Senior Counsel

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