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Honoring National Jewish Heritage Month: Reflections on Resilience and Community

May is National Jewish Heritage Month in the United States, a month dedicated to honoring and celebrating Jewish people, heritage and contributions to U.S. history and community. During this month we honor and uplift the resilience and contributions of Jewish peoples.

Judaism has existed, persisted and evolved over three millennia. The diversity of what it means to be Jewish in the U.S. has been a result of many things including but not limited to living in diaspora, surviving persecution and genocide, adapting and integrating into other lands and cultures, and a rich tradition of examining, questioning and reinterpreting religious texts and traditions.

As we observe this month, we reaffirm our commitment to ease the experience of hunger through food distribution. According to the 2022 to 2023 Greater Portland Jewish Community Study, 26% of Jewish households in the greater Portland area are either struggling or just able to make ends meet.

And we affirm our commitment to eliminate hunger by addressing its root causes: White supremacy, racism, sexism and cissexism, and all other colonialist systems of beliefs. We acknowledge that antisemitism is a core concept of white supremacy. We believe in the historical evidence of antisemitism, including forced conversion, impoverishment, expulsion, persecution, mutilation, execution and massacres.

We mourn the violence caused by white supremacy in its most extreme form, namely the Nazi-led Holocaust. More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust because they were Jewish. In Oregon, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education Center ensures we never forget.

We also acknowledge that the Pacific Northwest has a long and deep history of antisemitism and that antisemitism persists in our current reality. As recently as April 16, 2024 the Anti-Defamation League of the Pacific Northwest Region (ADL) reported that “antisemitic incidents in the Pacific Northwest persist with Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana seeing record numbers. In 2023, ADL recorded the worst year for antisemitic incidents since ADL began recording more than four decades ago.” Across the United States in 2023, there were almost 9,000 antisemitic incidents reported, an increase of 140 percent compared to 2022, which was also a record-setting year. ADL found the Pacific Northwest Region to be witnessing a continuous onslaught of antisemitic incidents this year.

During an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting last year, Miri Cypers, regional director of ADL’s Pacific Northwest Region reminded us all that “antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine [...] white supremacy as a system is connected through antisemitism. [...] As a rule, white supremacist ideologies include conspiracy theory-type thinking about Jewish people. Other forms of hate, against Black people, immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community, for example, are fostered in those same ideologies. Understanding the roots of those racist belief systems is key to combating them. [...] These different forms of prejudice are really interconnected when it comes to the health of our democracy.” Additionally, in 2022, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 24 hate and anti-government groups in Oregon and 29 in Washington.

It is also important to note that Jewish communities include multiracial and multiethnic experiences. People with intersecting identities — such as Jewish and Black or Jewish and Trans — are disproportionately impacted by hunger and poverty and at greater exposure to violence. Many Jewish people with intersecting identities continue to build community and connect with their roots by remembering and partaking in legacies of radical community care and action as well as creative forms of expression.

As a volunteer with Showing Up for Racial Justice emphasizes, “We are more than that hate and that pain… There is so much love in the community,” (OPB, 2023). Jewish Americans have demonstrated that love through important roles in several movements that address the root causes of hunger, such as foodways activist Michael Twitty, former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and gay rights activist Frank Kameny. Influential Jewish Oregonians include Vera Katz, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. More than 40,000 Jewish people live and contribute to our communities in Oregon and SW Washington.

During National Jewish Heritage Month, we acknowledge the deep roots and present actions of antisemitism in the Pacific Northwest and across the country. And we celebrate the resilience and vibrance of Jewish communities.

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