Israeli Independence Day Parrillada

Photo by verovera78 https://www.flickr.com/photos/verovera/

Photo by verovera78.

Israelis traditionally party on Independence Day, Yom Haatzmaut, with a mangel, or Israeli barbecue. They season their meats with traditional Middle Eastern spice mixtures. The huge aliyah of Jews from Argentina has also brought recipes from one of the best cuisines of South America to Israel, including Argentinian parrillada, or barbecue.

When the sun sets on May 1, the celebrations — and the grilling — will begin. [Read more…]

Israeli Independence Day Cupcakes

David Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948. In the Hebrew calendar, this is the 5th of Iyar. Yom Ha’atzmaut, the national day commemorating Israel’s declaration of independence, is celebrated on this date every year.

As the sun sets, an official ceremony is held by the Israeli government at Mt. Herzl to celebrate. Twelve torches, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel, are lit. When the ceremony concludes, fireworks illuminate the skies.

The next day, the International Bible Contest is held. High school students from around the world compete for a scholarship to Bar Ilan University.

Commanders and fellow soldiers select 120 IDF soldiers who have performed their duty to their country in an outstanding way. They receive an award from the president of Israel at his residence.

The Israel Prize, the highest honor that Israel awards, is handed out. It is given for achievements in the humanities, the sciences, culture, and lifetime achievement.

The celebrations include visits to IDF bases. Weapons are exhibited for the civilian guests.

Many people participate in a festive meal, which is usually a potluck picnic barbecue. This year, Yom Ha’atzmaut falls on May 11th. You may experience this festive tradition by hosting your own Israel themed dinner. A fun activity for your family and guests is to decorate their own Israeli Flag inspired cupcakes. You may buy or bake cupcakes. Then, decorate with frosting, sugar sprinkles and Israeli flag toothpicks.

Easy Vanilla Cupcake
Adapted from The Food Network.

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 12 tbsp. butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Place cupcake liners in a muffin baking tray.
  3. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Spoon batter into each cupcake liner until it is 2/3 full.
  5. Bake for about 20 minutes.

White Frosting
Adapted from MyRecipes.

  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 4 tbsp. milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  1. Beat all the ingredients together in a mixer.
  2. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.
  3. Decorate with frosting, candy, and Israeli flags.

Bnei Menashe Celebrate Yom Haatzmaut in India

— by Jake Sharfman

Over 1200 members from the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut and the resumption of their Aliyah to Israel yesterday with a festive celebration in the town of Churachandpur in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur.

The gathering, which was sponsored and organized by the Shavei Israel organization, was the largest in the Bnei Menashe community’s history. Just last October, the Israeli government lifted a five-year ban on the Aliyah of Bnei Menashe in a unanimous decision. Since then, over 270 Bnei Menashe have been brought on Aliyah by Shavei Israel.

More after the jump.
“This Yom Ha’atzmaut is particularly poignant for the Bnei Menashe,” Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund said.

With the resumption of the Aliyah from India, the community’s dream of returning to the land of their ancestors is finally coming to fruition. In the coming months, with G-d’s help, we aim to bring another 900 Bnei Menashe back home to Zion.

“There has never been such a joyous event like this before in our community. We are celebrating in spirit with our Bnei Menashe brothers and sisters who have already made Aliyah to Israel in hopes that we will be joining them very soon,” said Yochanon Phaltual, a Bnei Menashe member who organized the event.

To celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut with the realistic hope of making Aliyah soon fills my heart with joy. I was especially moved when we all stood up and sang Hatikvah. That was a very special moment for me and I really hope that we can all sing it together next year in Jerusalem.

The Taste Of Independence: Jaffa Chicken Bar-B-Q

— by Ronit Treatman

On May 14th, sixty five years ago, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence and “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” Yom Ha’atzmaut, as it is known in Hebrew, is a national holiday in Israel. It is celebrated with the recitation of Hallel, a military parade, the International Bible contest, and the awarding of the Israel Prize. The day is concluded with a festive mangal (bar-b-q) and fireworks.

For this special day, I like to prepare a chicken recipe inspired by some of Israel’s first chefs. It takes a staple of the Jewish kitchen, the chicken, and marries it with Israel’s local flavors of Jaffa oranges, olive oil, and Middle Eastern spices.

Full recipe after the jump.
Jaffa Chicken Bar-B-Q

For the marinade:

  • 2 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice (Jaffa or Valencia)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon baharat
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Mix all the ingredients above in a large bowl. Place three pounds of cut-up chicken in the marinade. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.  
  2. Grill slowly over charcoal, at medium heat.
  3. Serve with pita bread, hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, and pickles.

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut


Above left: The remembrance ceremony at Jerusalem’s Western Wall honoring Israel’s 22,993 victims of war and terrorism.
Above right: Cartoon courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog. blogspot.com.

Letter from US President Barack Obama to Israeli President Shimon Peres

Dear Mr. President:

On the 64th anniversary of Israel’s independence on April 26, I wish to extend warmest regards and congratulations on behalf of the American people.

Based on shared values and interests, the bonds between our two countries are deep and strong. In a time of momentous change, the United States remains steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s security and a comprehensive peace in the region.

As we work together to pursue common goals and meet shared challenges, I wish the State of Israel continued prosperity and a peaceful future.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

Book Chat: Meir Shalev’s Family Memoir

By Hannah Lee

Childhood memories strongly color our image of a place.  My husband, Eyal, fondly remembers petting the cats under his Saba Israel’s house in Tel Aviv.  Meir Shalev’s family memoir, My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir tells us about his birth and childhood into a pioneering family in Nahalal, a moshav in the Jezreel Valley, in northern Israel.  Founded in 1921, it was the first moshav ovdim, a workers’ cooperative settlement.  When Shalev’s larger-than-life, cantankerous Grandma Tonia was interviewed for national television and asked what is the difference between a moshav and a kibbutz, she unhesitatingly replied, “We went to a moshav because we wanted freedom and privacy.  A lot of people left the kibbutzim and went to moshavim.  Nobody left the moshav for a kibbutz.”

More after the jump.
Originally titled in Hebrew, Ha’Davar Haya Kakha (“This is How It Was”), Shalev’s memoir is a fascinating collection of stories his family tells about each other, complete with the appropriate accents and accentuations.  Foremost in the stories is his Grandma Tonia, who left the Ukraine at age 18 to become the wife of her widowed brother-in-law, Aharon Ben-Barak, and mother to his two young sons.  The family’s stories are a personal window into Palestine’s re-settlement by Jews and Israel’s early years of statehood.   Nahalal in 1923 boasted of “huts and cowsheds, and people received a little sugar and oil on credit from what was known as ‘the warehouse.’  In summer there was nowhere to hide from the blazing sun and in winter there was mud up to the knees.”

Grandpa Aharon had the soul of a writer and poet, but Grandma Tonia proved her strength and resilience in taming the land and wrangling from it a farm.  The most vivid stories are told of her fight with the pervasive mud, dust, dung, and dirt.  With a trusty rag always on duty on her left shoulder, she bullied her family and the very air around her into compliance.  The American vacuum cleaner (pronounced svieeperrr with a Russian rrr) of the book’s title is the unsolicited gift from her “double-traitor”– a non-Zionist and a non-Socialist–  brother-in-law, Yeshayahu, who’d made his fortune in Los Angeles, the land of capitalism, individualism, hedonism, and frivolity.  A land where the image of a woman, “her lips bright with red lipstick, a red polka-dot dress snug on her hips, an ample bosom, meaty buttocks” was used as advertisement. The final indictment of the American character was that “Her nails were painted with red nail polish.  It was clear to one and all: she has her hands manicured!”  No self-respecting Israeli pioneer–  and founding member of a nation– would be so frivolous.   As for her new svieeperr,  Grandma Tonia was appalled to learn that it collected dust, so it was rendered dirty, and required cleaning of its all its internal parts.  Complying with her request, her brother Yitzhak dissembled the machine, but a breeze blew the small collection of dirt all over her house.  Thus, her baleful decision was to quarantine the traitorous appliance in a forbidden, locked bathroom, never to be used again.

Painted nails become another leit-motif in Shalev’s memoir, when he shows up to Nahalal for the inauguration of the old arms cache used by the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization operated in Palestine during the British Mandate, with his toe nails painted a shiny red.  His young nieces had polished his nails while he was asleep, it was too hot for any footwear other than sandals, and he had no time to remove the coloration.  His nieces challenged him, “You’re afraid!  You’re afraid of what they’ll say about you in the village.”  They were right.  “Anyone familiar with members of the old-time collective agricultural movement, anyone who has been upbraided by them, knows that in small villages eyes take everything in and comments are made with regularity and rumors take off and land like cranes in a sown field.  All the more so in places where pedigree is famed and illustrious, like Nahalal’s.”  Shalev gave his speech, is slapped on the back, and crushed by bold handshakes, but he does not escape scrutiny.  “Not noticed?  It’s all anyone’s been talking about.  But take consolation in the fact that no one was surprised… What do you want from the guy?  He got it from Tonia.  She was crazy in just the same way.  That’s the way it is in their family.”  However, Grandma Tonia was not crazy, not frivolous, not prone to painting her nails.  She was “distinctive.  She was what we call ‘a character.’  She was not an easy person, and that’s putting it mildly.”

Shalev’s father , Yitzhak, was already a noted poet, writer, and teacher, but his reputation was sealed in the moshav as one who could plant only ten cucumbers in two hours, from his initial days courting his wife, Batya.  A Jerusalemite, his politics were to the right of that of the moshavniks, but the people of Nahalal accepted him as a poet and a teacher of Bible, who taught his son Meir a real love for Tanach.  Batya, in turn, proudly instructed their son, to declare of himself, “I am the son of farmers from Nahalal!”  

During summer visits to his family’s farm, the teen Meir learned to pull his weight on the farm:  milking (by hand and by machine); the feeding of newborn calves; cleaning the cowshed; harvesting and gathering; milking semen from male turkeys and inseminating the females… and “also the skill that turns any old farmer’s son into a person of merit– driving a wagon with a plowshare in reverse, and more than that, backing up a wagon that has a plowshaft.”

My mother-in-law, Dr. Aviva Barzel, a retired professor of Hebrew literature, remarks that Shalev’s memoir was written with a sense of humor and a wink of the eye, detailing the family’s idiosyncrasies with a lot of love.  Drawing upon both his literary and pioneering heritages, Shalev has written a worthy homage to the land of his fathers — mothers and Grandmas! —  and it’s a fitting read for the 64th celebration of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

A Philadelphia Hero: Michael Levin 1984-2006

A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism
Editor’s Note: On the eve of Yom Ha’atzmaut — Israel Independence Day — Jews throughout the world mark Yom Hazikaron — Israel’s Memorial Day — to remember the soldiers who gave their lives. Israel needed heroes like these to win its independence and facing existential threats around it, Israel continues to need heroes like these to safeguard its independence.

I just read A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism by Yossi Katz. I heartily recommend this collection of articles about some of the great Jewish heroes of modern times. The stories are written to shed light on Jewish history and to inspire the reader to live in the present with pride and dignity and to help build a better future.

The Philadelphia Jewish Community can be proud to count among its ranks one of these heros: Michael Levin. We thank Yossi Katz and Gefen Publishing for permission to reprint his story. (All rights reserved by Gefen Publishing.)

You can't fulfill you dreams unless you dare to risk it all.
Michael Levin: Acharai!

  • Born in Philadelphia 1984 — Made Aliyah to Israel in 2003
  • Joined Israeli Paratroops, fulfilling a personal dream
  • Rushed back to Israel to rejoin fellow soldiers in battle when Israel attacked
  • Fell in battle against Hizbullah terrorists on August 1, 2006

“You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare risk it all”

Yossi Katz— by Yossi Katz

Michael Levin grew up like most American-Jewish kids. Born on February 17, 1984 and raised in Philadelphia, he graduated from Council Rock High School in 2002. Michael’s maternal grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust and passed on to him a legacy of pride and strength in his Jewish heritage. As a teenager Michael was active in the HaGesher Region of United Synagogue Youth (USY) and attended Camp Ramah in the Poconos. He loved sports and was an avid fan of Philly teams especially the Philadelphia Phillies.

In February 2001, Michael came to Israel for two months to study the 4000-year history of the Jewish people at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). While in Israel Michael expressed his desire to make Aliyah (move to Israel and become an Israeli citizen) and serve in ZAHAL-the Israel Defense Forces. Michael proved to be an outstanding student at AMHSI and was especially moved by the stories of Jewish heroes like Judah the Maccabee, Shimon Bar Kochba, Rabbi Akiba, Hannah Senesh, Eli Cohen, Avigdor Kahalani and Yonaton “Yoni” Netanyahu. The most moving moment at AMHSI for Michael was on the last day of the program when his class visited the grave of Yoni Netanyahu, hero of the 1976 Entebbe rescue mission, at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Michael looked up to Yoni as a role model and a hero and was touched by Yoni’s words from a 1975 letter:

By ‘past’ I mean not only my own past, but the way in which I see myself as an inseparable part, a link in the chain of our existence and Israel’s independence.

Like Yoni, Michael also saw himself as a link in the chain of Jewish history and felt an obligation to defend his people and dreamed of serving in the Israel Defense Forces.

After graduating high school, Michael attended “Nativ” — USY’s Year Course in Israel and in his “Nativ” yearbook wrote the words that would become his motto:

“You can’t fulfill your dreams unless you dare risk it all”

Michael was neither a daredevil, nor a gambling man. He was a sweet, funny, humble, kind, loving human being who loved life and lived it to the fullest. He simply believed that life wasn’t worth living unless there was some ideal
you loved so much that you’d be willing to sacrifice your life for it. For Michael — that ideal was Israel.

In 2003 Michael made Aliyah to Israel and began studying Hebrew at an Ulpan (intensive course in speaking Hebrew) on Kibbutz Yavne. Like all Israelis, Michael was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and reported to the Army Induction Center at Tel Hashomer. As he was being processed, the officer in charge noticed his papers had not been finalized due to his new status in the country. The officer told him that he couldn’t ben drafted at this time. Undeterred, Michael went outside the Army Induction Center and climbed up a trash dumpster and snuck into the 2nd floor of the building. When the officer discovered him, he hollered at Michael and said, “No one can get thru the front door here without papers” to which Michael smiled and replied, “What makes you think I came thru the front door?!!” The officer pulled some strings and arranged for Michael to be processed as an Israeli soldier. He later remarked, “I’ve been here at the army induction center for 20 years and some kids don’t want to be here and look for ways to get out but Michael was the first kid I ever met who ‘broke in’ to be inducted into ZAHAL!”

Once in ZAHAL, Michael volunteered for the IDF’s finest combat unit, the red-bereted Paratroops. During his basic training Michael learned to parachute. Small in size, 5’6″ and weighing only 118 lbs, Michael was blown off course on his first jump. Afterwards his officers had to tie weights to his parachute to keep him from drifting. Despite his small size, Mike was a fierce fighter with a lion’s heart. At the end of their basic training the Paratroops go on a 90-kilometer march to Jerusalem where they receive their red berets at Ammunition Hill, a famous battle site from the 1967 Six Day War. In 2001, while at AMHSI, Michael had learned about the heroism of the Paratroops in
that battle from one of the surviving veterans who spoke to his class. Now he was receiving his red beret on that hallowed ground. Michael described that day as one of the happiest in his life!

Mike was not only a brave soldier but he remained a loving son and brother. He once said, “I’m not worried about dying! I’m just worried about what
it would do to my family.” Michael held a special status in ZAHAL called Chayal Boded, given to lone Israeli soldiers whose parents do not live in the
country. Military service is tough enough for most young Israelis but they are comforted knowing they will come home on their Shabbat leaves to a warm and loving family. Michael had none in Israel, making his service that much tougher.

In June 2006, Mike received a 30-day leave from the IDF to visit his family back in Philadelphia. Michael, who had a great sense of humor, wanted
to surprise his mom and dad and worked out a cute prank with his older sister, Elisa. When he arrived in Philadelphia that summer he had Elisa put a gigantic cardboard box with real Fed-Ex markings on the front steps of their home. Michael got into the box and had his sister tape it up and ring his parents’ doorbell. When Mrs. Levin saw the package, she tried to carry it into the house, but it was too heavy. Suddenly Michael jumped out of the box and screamed, “Surprise!!” This story is indicative of Michael’s loving heart and playful spirit.

Michael spent quality time with his family and visited friends at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. When some friends expressed their worries to Michael about his safety in an elite combat unit of the Israeli army, he responded philosophically, “I’m doing exactly what I want to do and going exactly where I want to be, and if God should decide to call me home, I’m fine with that.” During his visit to Philadelphia, Michael told his parents that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted to be buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. On July 12, 2006 the Lebanese terrorist organization, Hizbullah attacked Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers — Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The Hizbullah, dedicated to Israel’s destruction and armed by Iran, began shelling Israel’s northern cities. Michael heard that his unit was sent into battle and he promptly told his family that he had to cut his visit short to rejoin his comrades at arms. He rushed back to Israel and rejoined his unit —  the 890th battalion of the Israeli Paratroops, then fighting inside Lebanon. Michael’s unit was on a mission in the Lebanese village of Ayta al Shab, a Hizbullah stronghold, when they came under heavy missile — gunfire. Held up in a house, Michael fought bravely but on August 1, 2006 he was tragically killed by a Hizbullah sniper. His fellow soldier and friend, Shlomi Singer,
described Michael’s last moments:

I heard a round of gunfire and saw Michael lying on his stomach. I knew in my heart he was dead. I lifted him to one of the houses where I tried to revive him, but there was no chance. I said quietly in English, “I love you Michael and I am so sorry.” He was wearing a big green kippah and before we went into Lebanon, I put his kippah on my head and said the Shema… praying that we all come back safely. After Michael was killed we placed his body on a stretcher and carried him for several kilometers between the cliffs and rocks to bring his body to safety. It was the final honor and respect that we could give him.

Michael’s family was notified in Philadelphia of his death in battle and they immediately flew to Israel for his funeral. One of their biggest worries was if they’d be able to find a minyan (a quorum of 10 necessary for communal
prayer) for the ceremony, as they had no family in the country. They arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on August 3, 2006 and drove right from the airport to the National Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl. When the car arrived at the cemetery, the Levins saw thousands of people gathered there. Michael’s father was confused by the large crowd and thought there were 10 or 15 other funerals taking place at the same time. The soldiers escorting the family told them that Michael’s was the only funeral being held at this time and all the thousands of people in attendance, most of whom who had not known Michael, were there to honor their fallen son. Immersed in their shock and grief but embraced by a loving and grateful nation, the Levins buried their son on the hills of Jerusalem, the city he loved with all his heart… just a few yards from the grave of his hero — Yoni Netanyahu.

Michael’s mother, Harriet, at first had wanted her fallen son buried near her home in Philadelphia but her Rabbi convinced her that it was Michael’s last wish to be buried in the land he loved. She said that when she and her husband, Mark, saw all the people who had come to honor Michael; they knew they had made the right decision.

Harriet said that about a month after the funeral, a friend of hers from Philadelphia went to visit Michael’s grave on Mount Herzl. When the friend reached the burial site, she was shocked to see there was an Israeli soldier sitting on the grave drinking a cup of coffee with a small gas burner and finjan (coffee pot) next to him. Thinking he was acting improperly in the cemetery, the woman asked him what he was doing there. The young warrior answered softly, “Michael was my best friend in the army and every Friday afternoon just before Shabbat, we’d sit down and drink a cup of coffee together and shmooze about life. Now, just like before, I come visit Michael every week just before Shabbat and drink a cup a coffee and chat with my best friend.”

Harriet Levin said that if Michael had been buried in Philadelphia, probably only a handful of family would visit his grave but at rest at home in Israel, hundreds come every week to pay their respects to the young hero from Philly with the contagious smile and the heart of a lion.

Michael was buried on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av on August 3, 2006. Tisha b’Av is a fast day where we commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen our people on this black date in our history: the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the fall of Betar during the Bar Kochba revolt, the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492 and the transportation of over 300,000 of Warsaw’s Jews to the gas chambers in Treblinka in July 1942. As a sign of mourning we do not wear Tefillin during the morning service on Tisha b’Av but we do put on Tefillin during the afternoon service that day as a sign that life must continue and we must move on from destruction and mourning to comfort and rebirth. It is fitting that Michael was buried on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av and not in the morning. His death was a tragedy that tore into the hearts and souls of all who loved him but Michael’s legacy to us is one of hope and commitment. As he smiles down on us from above, his memory will best be honored not by remembering so much how he died but more importantly how he lived. The motto of the Israeli Paratroops is “Achari!” (“Follow Me!”) Michael set a dugma isheet — a personal example of how to live a life as a committed Jew with passion and pride dedicated to the Jewish People, to the Torah and to Israel. His legacy commands us all — “Achari!”

Postscript: Michael Levin’s mother, Harriet Levin, once told this author that Michael was a normal American-Jewish kid. She said he was just like you and me and added,” You know he wasn’t always an angel… at times he made mistakes and could get into trouble.” In many ways though, that makes Michael even more inspiring. He wasn’t a “Superhero”! He was just the kid from down the block, but when his people and Israel needed him- he was there!

A moving documentary film by Sally Mitlas has been made about Michael Levin called A Hero in Heaven. For more information on the film go to www.aheroinheaven.com/.

Pres. Obama on Israeli Independence Day and Jewish History Month


— President Barack Obama

Yom Ha’atzmaut

Sixty-three years ago, when Israel declared its independence, the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland was finally realized.  On that same day, the United States became the first country in the world to recognize the State of Israel.  As Israelis celebrate their hard-won independence, it gives me great pleasure to extend the best wishes of the American people to the people of Israel and to honor their remarkable achievements over the past six decades.  Our two nations share a unique and unbreakable bond of friendship that is anchored in common interests and shared values, and the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.  I have every confidence that the strong relationship between our countries will grow deeper with each passing year.

This is a period of profound change in the Middle East and North Africa, as people across the region  courageously pursue the path of dignity and self-governance.  Just as I know that Israel will always be one of our closest allies, I believe that the region can be more peaceful and prosperous when its people are able to fulfill their legitimate aspirations.   We will continue our efforts with Israel and others in the region to achieve a comprehensive peace, including a two-state solution, and to working together toward a future of peace, security and dignity for the people of Israel and all the people of the region.  

I offer my best wishes to President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the people of Israel as they celebrate their 63rd Independence Day.

Information about the Second Annual White House Jewish American Heritage Month Reception follows the jump.
Reception at the White House

On Tuesday, May 17, President Barack Obama will host a White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

The reception will highlight and celebrate the history and unique identity of Jewish Americans and their profound and ennobling contributions to the American story. Invitees include grassroots Jewish community leaders from across the country, rabbis, Members of Congress, and a broad range of leaders engaged in business, the arts, education, and public and community service.

Since taking office, President Obama has continued the tradition started under the previous Administration of proclaiming May Jewish American Heritage Month. Last year, the President and First Lady hosted the first ever White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

In this year’s proclamation, President Obama said, “Seeking a brighter future, a small band of Jewish refugees came to this land more than three centuries ago, to a place called New Amsterdam…From those first days in New Amsterdam, Jewish Americans have dedicated their innovation, creativity, and hearts to the greater good, contributing scientific accomplishments, pioneering works of literature and musical genius, and performing distinguished service in our Nation’s military.”

Official Proclamation

Since before our Nation’s founding, America’s shores have been a safe harbor for people seeking shelter, hope, and new lives free from persecution. Here, people of all faiths have broken bread, come together, and built a better future for their families. The Jewish story is intertwined with the American story — one of overcoming great hardship, and one of commitment
to building a more just world. This month, we embrace and celebrate the vast contributions Jewish Americans have made to our country.

Seeking a brighter future, a small band of Jewish refugees came to this land more than three centuries ago, to a place called New Amsterdam. Hundreds of years later, as Holocaust
survivors and families caught behind the Iron Curtain made their way to America, their perseverance in the face of unimaginable tragedy inspired the world and proved that the Jewish people will not be defeated. Many endured bigotry even here, reminding us that we must continue to fight prejudice and violence at home and around the globe. In this spirit, President Truman recognized the small, fledgling nation of Israel within minutes of its creation. To this day, we continue to foster an unbreakable partnership with Israel, and we remain committed to pursuing peace in the region and ensuring Israel’s security.

From those first days in New Amsterdam, Jewish Americans have dedicated their innovation, creativity, and hearts to the greater good — contributing scientific accomplishments, pioneering works of literature and musical genius, and performing distinguished service in our Nation’s military. Jewish Americans have defended our country since the days of the American Revolution as devoted service members and chaplains, and they continue to serve with distinction in our Armed Forces.

Nearly 70 years ago, during World War II, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester suffered an explosion at sea while carrying almost a thousand soldiers and civilian workers. On board were four Army chaplains — two Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish. While the ship sank, the four chaplains gave their own life jackets to four men without any, calmed the wounded, and preached strength to the survivors, linking arms and praying together as the ship submerged. In a time of great need, these chaplains showed that their shared commitment to the lives of others was stronger than any division of faith or background.

This same spirit is found in the countless Jewish Americans who, through their every day actions, work to provide a better life for future generations by joining hands with all who seek equality and progress. This month, we remember that the history and unique identity of Jewish Americans is part of the grand narrative of our country, forged in the friendships and shared wisdom between people of different faiths.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2011 as Jewish American Heritage Month I call upon all Americans to visit www.JewishHeritageMonth.gov to learn more about the heritage and contributions of Jewish Americans and to observe this month with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of April, in the year two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.