Community Spotlight: Jewish American Heritage Month

Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and can shape how others see the world. 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.

Tradition as a means to connection

Celebrating Jewish American Heritage month is all about honoring the countless contributions from Jewish Americans across medicine, arts, music, politics, law, academia, and more. During this month, it’s also important to acknowledge the courage, determination, and resilience that members of Jewish communities continue to show around the world.

Here’s what we’re doing to recognize Jewish American Heritage Month at Hearts & Science:

  • Jewish Food Society Cooking Class (Tuesday, May 11, 2023, at 3 p.m. EST)
    In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we are hosting a cooking class led by the Jewish Food Society. Learn to make chicken schnitzel with cherry sauce and a fennel and herb salad. Delight in delicious flavors while exploring the history of this recipe and the power of food as a point of connection. This will be an exciting culinary journey to learn, cook, and connect with the rich culinary traditions of the Jewish community.
  • Spirit of Resilience: A Holocaust Survivor’s Testimony (Wednesday, May 3, 2023, at 3 p.m. EST)
    A powerful event honoring Jewish American Heritage Month with Holocaust survivor, Dr. Clemens Lowe. Hear his personal story of survival and resilience, gaining insight into the challenges faced during one of history’s darkest chapters. It is a unique opportunity to listen to firsthand history while we still can. We will come together as a community to honor Jewish American Heritage Month and pay tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.

Safe spaces to share

How Jodi treasures her family and religion

Jodi grew up in New Jersey as a Reformed Jew. She wouldn’t describe herself as very religious, but she enjoyed all the celebrations of Jewish holidays and traditions with her friends and family. 

Like many friends her age, she underwent religious rites of passage. She attended Hebrew school and celebrated her bat mitzvah in a pale pink poofy dress with a big bow; it was the ‘80s, and that’s what was in. Whether it was learning prayers or the meaning of holidays and traditions, she enjoyed connecting with others of her faith over shared experiences.

“My religion and my faith is important to me. It’s who I am. It’s my identity, and I love to share those traditions with others.” 

When Jodi graduated from high school, she moved to Florida to attend college and lived there for 10 years. When an opportunity arose to move to Chicago and live near her sister and best friend, she bought a one-way ticket and never looked back.  

Being able to spend more time with her sister, niece, and nephew has been very special for Jodi—particularly when celebrating their shared Jewish heritage. 

Jodi was also quick to build meaningful friendships with those of her faith outside of family. Within two years of moving to Chicago, Jodi went on a mission trip to Israel through the Jewish United Fund with 65 people from the Chicago area. Traveling to this historic land had always been on her bucket list. Throughout the 14-day trip, she built friendships with several women who are now some of her closest girlfriends. She shares,

“There’s nothing like being with your people. Just being around those I’m familiar with is a wonderful way to embrace who I am and my values.” 

While Jodi loves the familiarity that comes with celebrating her Jewish heritage with friends and family, she doesn’t stop there. She also loves to share elements of her religion with others, inside and outside of work. Jodi's HamsaIn her home, one way Jodi showcases her heritage is with the Hamsa. It is a symbol that represents good luck and protection against evil.

She most recently helped the DE&I team organize an event called Understanding the Jewish Experience & Antisemitism. They found a facilitator to guide the conversation through a non-political lens to encourage people to ask questions and learn.

Today, she continues to encourage people to ask questions and educate themselves—to open up and have conversations around Judaism so they can learn more about it and become better allies.

Pro tip: “If you don’t understand something or don’t know, then ask,” Jodi shares. “I’m happy to answer questions or provide background on Judaism. Whether it’s how you observe a certain holiday or why things are said a certain way, no question is a silly question. Nobody knows everything, and there’s always something to learn every day!”

How Jared learned to forge his own path

Jared grew up in the multicultural hub of Queens, New York. Surrounded by people from all over the world, he could walk down the hallway at his high school and hear 20 different languages at the same time. While cognizant of his Judaism, he was never ostracized for his religion. “Because it was so multicultural, everyone respected each other for who they were,” he explains. 

Outside of school, his Jewish heritage was a big part of his upbringing. On Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings, he attended Hebrew school where he learned about Jewish history, practices, and values. 

He also spent many wonderful evenings at a local chapter of the B’nai B’rith International near his home. Jared made some great friends here at the Temple Torah of Little Neck. He fondly remembers chatting with them on the steps outside after activities.

As a child, he also participated fully in the more religious aspects of Judaism with his parents and felt that influence in his life. He went to temple with his family, recited prayers, and celebrated major holidays such as Hanukkah, Passover, and Yom Kippur. 

As he grew older, however, he reflected on what role he wanted Judaism to play in his life. He decided that he only wanted to hold onto the cultural aspects. He shares,

“As a child, you follow along with what your parents are doing, but as you get older, you get to have your own say and have to forge your own path.”

Part of this transition meant that Jared didn’t prioritize marrying into the Jewish faith.  “In the Jewish community, there’s pressure to marry someone of your own background,” he shares. “But for me, I didn’t need to marry someone who was Jewish. I just needed to respect them, and have them respect me.”

Fortunately, Jared was able to find a beautiful wife with similar values and background. She isn’t Jewish but grew up in a place where she had many Jewish friends. Like Jared, she understands the culture well and celebrates holidays such as Hanukkah or Passover if invited. 

At their wedding, they chose to celebrate with some traditional Jewish activities like the hora dance where they were lifted into the air on chairs. They also broke a glass to represent the destruction of ancient Jewish temples. For them, Jewish celebrations are about choosing to keep the traditions that help them connect with others. He shares,

“When we see our Jewish friends, we celebrate things together. For me, it’s about being aware. It’s about spending time with friends and family.”

Now as the human resources director at Hearts & Science, Jared takes the lessons he’s learned about choosing his own path and is passionate about empowering others to do the same in the employee lifecycle.

Pro tip: “There can be a lot of pressure to do certain things growing up,” Jared shares. “At the end of the day, you have to live your life and make your own decisions—and not be pressured by your family or your religion.”

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Show your support. Our Hearts requested custom email signatures celebrating and supporting causes and heritage months throughout the year. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Learn to stand up against hate. Using resources like Right to Be, we can take free training or read articles and tips about standing up against hate, taking action, and showing support. Knowing how to handle tough situations can make all the difference.
  3. 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.”

As we commemorate the lived experiences of Jewish Americans, let us remember that the remedy for hate is education and compassion. Lead by example—go out of your way to connect with and understand the culture and rich traditions of our Jewish American community, this month and throughout the year.