Jewish American Heritage Month is an occasion tailor made for community relations. In addition to celebrating the American Jewish experience, it also provides an important opportunity to educate other communities about American Jews. Over the past three years, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington has sponsored Jewish American Heritage Month programs designed to reach-out beyond the Jewish community.
The JCRC has partnered with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and the DC Mayor and City Council to present both the historical and present-day story that is at the heart of Jewish Heritage Month to the broader Washington, DC community. The presentation was highlighted with a luncheon that featured local officials and prominent civic leaders.
The exhibits showcased at these annual events have focused on the local Jewish stories purposefully chosen to illustrate the Jewish influence on Washington over the past 250 years and into the future. In 2009, the featured exhibition was a series of photographs from Jeremy Goldberg. Goldberg, a local photographer, captured images of Jewish sites in DC. His work included original and current homes for synagogues and other Jewish community buildings. Using both new and vintage pictures, the program told the story of the Jewish community branching out from a small downtown cluster of synagogues to new neighborhoods and suburbs. This exhibit was an unique and powerful way for members of the broader community to experience familiar sites through an unfamiliar lens.
This year, the JCRC paired with the Historical Society of Greater Washington for an event called “Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City.” It combined a celebration of local DC area Jewish history with the marking of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial. This special event was hosted at the DC Council building, affording the Mayor and DC Council Chairman opportunities to speak to the attendees. The two also served as honorary hosts along with the majority of City Council Members.
The choice of host and location was important to the success of the program. Integrating DC leaders like the Mayor and DC Attorney General (who also spoke) in the JCRC’s programming was an opportunity to deepen the partnerships central to the JCRC’s community relations mission. It also helped bring in new individuals who otherwise would not have known about events around Jewish Heritage Month. In addition to the over 80 attendees at the lunch event, displaying the presentation at a public building downtown allowed another 2 or 3 dozen people to engage in Jewish American Heritage month by passing through the exhibit.
The DC JCRC invited important leaders including representatives from the Israeli and Japanese Embassies, and interfaith partners such as the Catholic Archdiocese. The event was even attended by the wife of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during one of their official visits to Washington.
While the luncheon was a chance to tour exhibits highlighting the Jewish community and hear speeches from a variety of leaders, the JCRC went a step further to capitalize on the wide community involvement and give back through a social action component. In 2009, for instance, over $900 was raised to help local at risk youth. It is only fitting that a celebration of Jewish American Heritage included not just our story, but our ongoing work to repair the world.