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How My Family Celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month

Here's how we're celebrating this often-overlooked heritage month with our kids.

How My Family Celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month

Bryce Gruber

It's no secret that 2024 has been a rough year for Jewish families around the world, but what may be a hidden fact to many is that each May is Jewish American Heritage Month. And in difficult times, it's more important than ever to celebrate this 3,500-year-strong heritage that binds roughly 7 million American households according to recent PEW research.

According to the Library of Congress, May was chosen as the month of Jewish American Heritage Month because that's when the first Jewish people arrived on the shores of New Amsterdam, now New York, over 350 years ago. And that's interesting, because many people assume Jews are a monolith—that we all came from one particular place at one particular time, and we all have one style of dress, prayer and even skin color.

Nothing could be more inaccurate though—and that's part of the joy in this heritage month. We're celebrating the Jews of every style and background that have been woven through American culture.

How we're celebrating at home

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We tell stories of those who came before us

This is important for every family of every background, but it's an especially deep and important part of the Jewish experience. We're so committed to telling the stories of those who came before us that we've had a whole week of not eating bread each spring for the last 3,000+ years.

In our house, we focus on nearer generations though. We tell the stories of living grandparents, great grandparents and beyond who struggled to make it through tough times in Israel, the stories of their military veteran father and the stories of my own childhood experiences.

Shabbat dinners

We always have a robust Shabbat dinner plan at our home, but during Jewish American Heritage Month, I tell each of my five kids to invite a classmate or friend over who may not have regular access to Shabbat meals. That includes American Jews and non-Jewish friends—because a yummy, home-cooked meal is universally appealing.

It's important for the kids to participate in Shabbat meal prep, too.

shabbat challah for jewish american heritage month Bryce Gruber
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Typically, we encourage the kids to pick a favorite recipe from Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals From My Table to Yours or a fave from their Savta (that's Hebrew for grandmother). If you're not already into Adeena Sussman's game-changing kosher recipes, this is your sign from the universe that it's time to fall in love with her food.

Follow her on Instagram here.

We wear our Jewish pride for everyone to see

I love seeing the unique heritages of my friends—and I hope they love seeing ours, too. Each of my kids wears a magen David, or star of David, necklace year round. This year feels like an even more important time than ever to wear ours untucked from our shirts.

My kids have small, inexpensive silver stars (because hey, kids lose things) like this one, though I love bolder heirloom pieces for teens, young adults and parents.

Hearts of David necklace, Jewish American Heritage Month Merchant
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This gorgeous Hearts of David necklace is comprised of intertwined 18k gold hearts. It's the brilliant, eye-catching design of Alona Lisa Elkayim, who is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and exiled Moroccans partners with 4th generation jeweler, Todd Brown. I love the tiny one shown here, but you can also choose larger versions or a diamond-encrusted option.

We connect to our community

To be honest, we're pretty committed to synagogue already—but we do our best to honor Jewish American Heritage Month by showing up to Jewish community fundraisers as a family, helping with local chessed (charity) projects and volunteering at the Upstate New York and New York City-area Jewish organizations near and dear to our hearts.

Our 11-year-old daughter is working on a collection of kosher recipes from the grandmothers in the county to eventually print and pass out. Our 10-year-old is volunteering to help with younger children at the synagogue each weekend.

We each commit to an additional mitzvah

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While there are 613 prescribed mitzvot (acts of goodness that directly connect us to God), not everyone can achieve each in their lifetimes—and that's OK. We know that, but much of Judaism is a do-your-best-with-what-you've-got and it's something we celebrate openly as a major part of our culture.

Trying to achieve another mitzvah or perfect one we've already been working on is a pretty glorious way to honor this heritage. These can all easily be achieved in the United States or anywhere else.

Ideas I've passed around this house for kids to choose from:

  • Giving more to charity
  • Respecting Mom and Dad (ahem!)
  • To honor the old and wise
  • To wear tefillin (this one only applies to boys over 13)
  • To say the Shema twice each day

We learn about famous American Jews who contributed massively to the world

I buy and download books on some of American Jewry's most heroic names. Not sure where to start? Consider these:

  • Emma Lazarus, a Sephardi Jewish woman famous for her poetry inscribed on the Statue of Liberty
  • Jonas Salk, the hero who gave us the Polio vaccine
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the iconic Supreme Court justice 
  • Judy Blume, bestselling author and pop culture icon
  • Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, civil rights activist and inspirational spiritual leader
  • Levi Strauss, the father of denim
  • Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man and dozens of other beloved comic heroes
  • Judith Resnik, the fourth woman, the second American woman, and the first Jewish woman of any nationality to fly in space
  • Gertrude Elion, an American Jewish biochemist and pharmacologist and 1988 Nobel Prize winner
  • Haym Salomon, the prime financier of the rebel American side during the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain
  • Aly Raisman, American Jewish artistic gymnast and two-time Olympian

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Bryce Gruber is the Executive Editor at Today's Parent and a Jewish mom to five growing kids. She's based in New York's Hudson Valley, loves writing shopping and trend content and catching up on pop culture. When she's not raising her children, she can be found hiking local mountains, traveling to sunny beaches and trying to get a handle on the endless laundry life provides.

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