Community Spotlight: Jewish American Heritage Month
Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and can shape how others see the world, and here at Hearts, we use stories to build community.
This is one of many posts in our Community Spotlight Series, where we feature Hearts who identify with a group and have important conversations about how we can support one another.
Throughout the series, we will work closely with these individuals to create an experience where they can share their culture with fellow Hearts. We’ll hear directly from them about their lives, the safe spaces they’ve created to live their truth and how we can be better allies.
And then we listen.
Because more than ever, stories that celebrate our differences need to be heard.
Acknowledging the modern struggles of Jewish Americans
Anti-semitism is still prevalent in our society, and it takes all of us standing against it to bring it to an end. While many Jewish Americans are a part of mainstream American culture, they continue to face stereotypes, slurs and full-on hate. Honoring Jewish American Heritage Month includes recognizing this hate and working together to expand and protect safety for Jewish Americans.
Here’s how we are creating more safe spaces for Jewish Americans at Hearts:
- Genealogy Event: Jewish Genealogical Society of New York – May 4, 2022, 2 pm EDT
In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we invited Steve Stein, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York, to lead a conversation on research into Jewish genealogy. Steve will discuss the following topics:
- The historical and religious context
- Sources of information – Jewish and general vital records, censuses, etc.
- What to do with all the information – software tools, organization strategies
- Caveats, pitfalls, and suggestions on developing a strategy
- Love Thy Neighbor Tour: Immigration and the U.S. Experience – May 25, 2022, 4 pm EDT
The Museum of Jewish Heritage presents this compelling tour sharing the stories of Jewish Americans who came to the United States as refugees escaping the horrors of Nazi Germany. Learn why they chose to come to America and what their experiences were like trying to build new lives so far from home.
Safe spaces to share
How Julie cultivated her family’s connection to Judaism
Feeling like an outsider while attending a high school with a small Jewish population, Julie spent her weekends participating in conclaves with the Westchester Federation of Temple Youth (WEFTY). The teens got to choose which classes they wanted to attend from a range of options like learning about Israel, what it’s like being Jewish in modern America and much more.
What resonated most deeply with Julie was the music at these gatherings, as they would all sit together in a circle and someone would play guitar. They would pass around the “spices of life” and a braided Havdalah candle that signified the end of the Shabbat and the beginning of a new week.
“It was like going to camp on these weekends with people exactly like you. You may not fit in perfectly in your high school, but you fit in perfectly here.”
While Julie wanted her own children to have a spiritual connection to their Jewish heritage, she chose not to have the family join a temple. Instead, she got together with other like-minded parents who were creating their own group called “Havurah-On-Hudson”. “Havurah” is Hebrew for “fellowship.” It was an opportunity for their kids to get to know other Jewish kids, to understand Judaism from a Zionist perspective and to develop their own Jewish identity.
“We just had our own service and we brought food and things that were meaningful. And my kids, when you ask my children what religion they are, they do say they’re Jews.” Julie and her two children participated in Chaver for eight years, which had grown to include over 60 people from 14 families.
Pro tip: If you can’t find a space where you feel like you truly belong, consider creating one. If in-person opportunities aren’t available in your community, consider trying online options to meet new people who share your culture or lived experience and are also seeking a safe space to connect.
How Charles set boundaries to nurture his cultural identity
Charles’ family has been American ever since his great grandfather came from Poland and opened a deli on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Rumored to have had “the best corned beef in the neighborhood,” the deli held many secret recipes that have been passed down to each generation in their family. “I’ve made [the corned beef] before and it was really good,” says Charles.
Raised Orthodox Jewish, Charles kept kosher and wouldn’t use electricity on Saturdays. Without power as an option, Charles and his friends would play outside in his backyard. They invented “Slamball,” based on Charles’ name “Slamowitz,” which was similar to baseball but used a big kickball instead. Some of his best memories were in his backyard, just being able to be himself with his friends and have fun.
“Everything seems normal when you grow up in something. And then as you get older, you see that people grew up in all different walks of life.”
Since becoming an attorney six years ago, Charles has experienced workplaces that didn’t support his culture and expected him to work on religious holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“It was hard for me to explain that I truly needed this time off. Hearts & Science is a much more accepting and engaging community. If I want to take a holiday, I’m met with open arms . . . it’s almost overwhelming. I’m still not used to the amount of encouragement the company has given me.”
“I think just by being open about your cultural backgrounds, you may actually be more similar than you think.”
Pro tip: You’re not going to get what you don’t ask for. Setting expectations early on, even if it makes for a hard conversation, is important. Some workplaces will be better fits than others, so if you observe certain holidays and other cultural activities, it’s important to speak up and ensure you’re at a place that respects your authentic self. If you want to practice your religion and be who you are, it’s ultimately up to you to let others know your boundaries and enable them to support you in maintaining them.
Work should be a safe space too
Hearts & Science is dedicated to building a space where its employees are recognized and feel seen. There are many ways you can support inclusion at work:
- Attend upcoming company events. Attend every company event that you can. Learn, enjoy, represent your perspective and share feedback on how your company can create truly inclusive programming. If you don’t have any events, start one.
- Show your support. Our Hearts requested custom email signatures celebrating and supporting causes and heritage months throughout the year, and they are now available to all employees. It’s one small gesture you can make to colleagues and partners to show your support for the Jewish community.
What individuals can do:
- Learn about Judaism. There are many different sects of Judaism that include a variety of practices and experiences. Keep this in mind as you learn about Jewish culture and explore the dynamic range of differences within it.
- Ditch “positive” stereotypes. Making jokes or comments that are based on so-called “positive” stereotypes can be just as prejudiced and damaging as those based on negative cliches. Toss these from your own vocabulary and speak up when someone else shares one.
- Learn to stand up against hate. Using resources like https://righttobe.org/, we can take free training or read articles and tips on standing up against hate, taking action and showing support. Knowing how to handle tough situations can make all the difference.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Explore content, cultures and backgrounds other than your own. Take in diverse perspectives to help you understand different people’s experiences. You could sign up for a newsletter or listen to a podcast like this great one from the Jewish Food Society called Schmaltzy or check out virtual exhibits at the Jewish Museum or the Tenement Museum.
Andriena Coleman, associate director of DE&I at Hearts & Science, shares, “Hearts is a workplace where new ideas can flourish. Together, this community of amazing individuals changes and grows through unique experiences and perspectives. Our differences are celebrated and truly invaluable to our organization.”
Educating ourselves about historical events and then understanding how they connect to the lives of Jewish people living today can help increase empathy and compassion.
If you haven’t begun this learning journey already, getting involved in the events of Jewish American Heritage Month is a great place to begin.