May is Jewish American Heritage Month. It was officially declared on April 20, 2006. The month of May was chosen due to the highly successful celebration of the 350th Anniversary of American Jewish History. 350 years. That's a lot of years!
With any marginalized group of people, will it ever feel like you are part of the larger "American" culture? This is the question I ask myself. I can't speak for everyone; I can only speak from my personal experiences and, of course, as a librarian, through knowledge gained by research and reading.
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles as a first-generation American. Though there were many Jewish families near me, that experience wasn't what I saw on TV, in movies, or elsewhere in the media. And if it was, often it was the worst of stereotypes. These images can make one feel "other" or "less than." The strange thing was, there were little bits of Jewishness hidden in plain sight; cultural easter eggs, if you will. I remember a cartoon growing up called Magilla Gorilla. Could this be the same Magillah recited at Purim? Or the character, Schleprock from the Flintstones? Nothing subtle there. When someone referred to a spiel or a tushy, was a Jewish writer sneaking in those little bits of cultural "home?" Here's a list you may not realize are Yiddish words: bagel; glitch; klutz; lox; mensch; schlep; schlock; schlub; schmaltz; schmo; schmooze; schmuck; shtick.
Those are the "fun ones". The "not so funs" was seeing a Rabbi character in full orthodox dress, played onscreen with a violin (if you have intro music, you know something is being played full racist stereotype. Think Chinese gong, etc.) Said character would then do or say something I often felt embarrassed by, though I didn't know why. It wasn't just the thinly veiled characters that made me feel bad, as there were worse ones out there. Think Star Treks' Ferengi. Were they money-hungry Jews or alien creatures representing "human greed"? And dare I say it, the Jewish Goblins...oops, I mean Greedy Goblins who ran Gringotts Bank in a certain wizarding world. Those images don't go unnoticed by children (or adults), and somewhere in our collective conscious, we see that enough, and it becomes part of us; internalized anti-Semitism. But I'm not here to lecture. Lecture Schmeture! (Another example of Yiddish!)
I want to celebrate my culture. When I first looked into adding another "Celebration Month" to the library's website, I had to check my own internalized prejudices at the door. What was I afraid of? That I would appear pushy for wanting this? Greedy? I mean, we're talking an entire webpage here; let's not get ahead of ourselves...oy vey. But this is what internalized hate and micro-aggressions feel like. So here goes nothing! An entire month to celebrate, learn and enjoy parts of my (our) unique Jewish American Heritage. We have programming planned during the month of May, exhibitions, photo collections, and of course, books! We have put together several lists that highlight award-winning writers, award winners (Sydney Taylor Book Awards), cookbooks, biographies, and the darkest of chapters in our history. You can view them and other resources on our new Celebration page. Below is a list of some of my recommendations.