Jewish American Heritage Month & RPL’s Special Collections

Posted about 1 year ago by Ben Himmelfarb

Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) each May is a celebration of the contributions and experiences of Jewish Americans and highlights how America’s Jewish communities have shaped and been shaped by the cultural, social, and economic fabric of the United States. Recognition of Jewish American Heritage Month is a commitment to a more inclusive and respectful society. Each May, JAHM is supported by nearly 200 cultural, civic, educational, and government entities around the country who set out to celebrate the inspiring history of Jewish people in America from 1654 to the present; educate public audiences about Jewish culture; and spark crucial conversations about the American Jewish present and future.

Mayor Stoney gave a speech stating, “Formally recognizing Jewish American Heritage Month sends a clear statement of thanks and support to the Jewish community for its many contributions to American culture, and also affirms our commitment to stand with Jewish Americans in opposition to antisemitism and hate in all its forms.”

Jewish History in RPL’s Special Collections

The collections in the Richmond Room include a variety of materials that highlight Jewish American heritage and history in Richmond. Published books about the Jewish history of Richmond include: Richmond’s Jewry 1769-1976 by Myron Berman, Chapters on the Jews of Virginia by Louis Ginsberg, and The History of the Jews of Richmond by Herbert T. Ezekiel and Gaston Lichtenstein. In addition to historical overviews, the Richmond Room also holds books published by congregations around the city and biographies of prominent Jewish families from the area. A three year run of Jewish War Veterans Post News, a local periodical published by Richmond Post No. 155, chronicles the activities of Jewish veterans from 1953 through 1956.

In addition to formally published materials, the Richmond Room also holds ephemera files relating to local Jewish organizations and individuals. RPL’s files include materials from the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, the Richmond Jewish Community Center, Congregation Beth Ahabah, and Rabbi Edward N. Calisch. These materials especially highlight events and exhibits at Congregation Beth Ahabah – one of the oldest synagogues in the United States – and the life of one of its early rabbis, Rabbi Calisch.

Rabbi Edward Nathan Calisch was rabbi of Richmond’s Congregation Beth Ahabah for over 50 years
This pamphlet by Myron Berman, author of Richmond’s Jewry 1769-1976, recounts Rabbi Edward N. Calisch’s views on Zionism in the mid-20th century. Zionism (the belief that Israel should be established as a homeland for the Jewish people), was controversial from its genesis in the late 19th century. Longer-settled, more assimilated Jewish communities like the one Rabbi Calisch represented in Richmond, tended to oppose a focus on Zionism and favor participation in American political and social life, while continuing to maintain a Jewish religious and cultural identity.
Vol. 1, No. 3 of the Jewish War Veterans Post News for Richmond. This issue proudly touts the arrival of Benjamin Kaufman, the National Executive Director of JWV who came to the Hotel Richmond to speak.

New Books for Jewish American Heritage Month

Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer

People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn

Totally Kosher by Chanie Apfelbaum

King Solomon’s Table by Joan Nathan

KosherSoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael W. Twitty

Ben Himmelfarb

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