May 11 2010

Celebrating May as Jewish American Heritage Month

The following was written by our own Steven L. Pease, as published originally in the Huffington Post:

We are a nation of immigrants. Little has been more fortuitous than the rich melange of tribes and cultures that arrived from foreign shores to populate and share our land.

Among them were three major waves of Jewish immigrants whose contributions are now being celebrated during May’s Jewish American Heritage Month.

The first wave — 23 Jews — arrived in 1654 from today’s Brazil. They were escaping the onslaught of the Inquisition which imperiled their lives. After being allowed to immigrate, they demanded and received the right to participate as equals in defending their adopted colony.

The second, in the early to mid 1800s, were mostly from today’s Germany. They too were escaping persecution as efforts to change the politics of that part of the world brought strife.

The third, and by far the largest group — roughly two million Jews — arrived impoverished from the Pale of Russia. Though Jews have cherished education for most of 2,000 years, the harsh circumstances of the Pale left most of these Jews illiterate. Yet within a generation, 20 percent of the student body at Harvard was Jewish, as was 40 percent at Columbia, and 80 percent at Hunter College.

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