President George W. Bush first proclaimed the month of May as Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) in 2006, making Jews the only religious group in the United States that has a month dedicated to its history.

The proclamation was the result of an initiative spearheaded by the Jewish Museum of Florida and South Florida’s Jewish leaders. Resolutions were introduced by then-Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania urging the president to designate a month recognizing the more than 350-year history of American Jewish contributions to American history and culture.

Designating May as the month to commemorate Jewish American achievements and related history came on the heels of the 350th celebration of American Jewish history in May 2004. Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, told JewishBoston in 2018 that initially “JAHM did not have the buy-in that one wishes it had.”

In May 2015, President Barack Obama made an unprecedented trip to Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., boosting JAHM’s public presence. The president specifically addressed JAHM in his speech there. According to an article in the Forward, JAHM supporters saw the president’s visit to Adas Israel as a significant turning point. After 10 years of relative obscurity, JAHM was finally receiving national and even international media attention.

Yet at first, JAHM, one of the 10 congressionally officially proclaimed months, was not as high-profile as Black History Month, celebrated each February, with curricula in schools across the country and a heavy media presence. There were also well-publicized months dedicated to causes such as disability awareness, banned books and LGBTQ+ pride.

However, in the past five years, JAHM has staked a place on the calendar. Since 2018, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia has led the effort to celebrate JAHM. The month now has a dedicated website where educators and schools can access curated resources from the Jewish Education Project and lesson plans for the month through Share My Lesson from the American Federation of Teachers. Share My Lesson also offers book lists for students from pre-K to fifth grade and teachers’ guides for sixth grade through high school.

The museum is also hosting events throughout the month about Jewish contributions to American history. For example, the May 16 event will feature Aleeza Ben Shalom, the personable and intrepid matchmaker at the center of the breakout Netflix show “Jewish Matchmaking,” who will discuss matchmaking’s role in Jewish history and contemporary Jewish life.


William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is one of the founders of JAHM. He told JewishBoston: “JAHM is important because it recognizes the over 350 years of Jewish life in the United States—350 years where the Jewish community has become an intrinsic part of the mosaic that makes up our nation.”

Daroff further added: “Given the increase in antisemitism in the United States, it is vitally important that Americans understand the crucial role Jews have played in our country’s history. The best way to combat hatred is through education—and educating the American people through JAHM is an excellent antidote to ignorance.”

Dr. Misha Galperin, president and CEO of the Weitzman, seconded Daroff’s observation. “We believe that the antidote to antisemitism is to teach Jewish history and heritage, and to create tangible touch points with Jewish people and culture,” she said.

In the 2023 proclamation of Jewish American Heritage Month, President Joe Biden addressed surging antisemitism across the country. The president wrote: “I have made clear that I will not remain silent in the face of this antisemitic venom, vitriol, and violence.”

To that end, the president has signed the bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to aid law enforcement in understanding and addressing hate crimes. He appointed Deborah Lipstadt, a scholar of the history of the Holocaust, as the first special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. The Biden administration has also made more funding available to enhance security in Jewish spaces, including synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools.

Closing his JAHM proclamation, President Biden called on Americans to come together in the spirit of ecumenicism and goodwill to eradicate all hate:

“This Jewish American Heritage Month, let us join hands across faiths, races, and backgrounds to make clear that evil, hate, and antisemitism will not prevail. Let us honor the timeless values, contributions, and culture of Jewish Americans, who carry our Nation forward each and every day. And let us rededicate ourselves to the sacred work of creating a more inclusive tomorrow, protecting the diversity that defines who we are as a Nation, and preserving the dignity of every human being—here at home and around the world.”