Friday, May 4, 2012

May is Jewish American Heritage Month

The Statue of Liberty - a welcoming mother,
a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world.

Emma Lazarus was an American writer.
Born: 22 July 1849 in New York City.

May is Jewish American Heritage Month

From the time of its discovery, the United States of America has been a haven for Europe's oppressed and persecuted.

In 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World; the Spanish Inquisition reached its highest point. Spain expelled its Jews, and, five years later, Portugal followed suit. The remaining Iberian Jews found refuge in the cities and towns of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East, and Dutch-ruled Brazil.

In 1654, Portugal recaptured Brazil and expelled its Jewish settlers. Most returned to Holland or moved to Protestant-ruled colonies in the Caribbean.

A group of twenty-three Jewish refugees, including women and children, arrived in New Amsterdam (now called New York City) hoping to settle and build a new home for themselves. In the years that followed, the growing Jewish community pressed the authorities to extend to them rights offered to other settlers, including the right to trade and travel, to stand guard, to own property, to establish a cemetery, to erect a house of worship, and to participate fully in the political process. For Jews, the promise of America was deeply rooted in its commitment to religious liberty.

Did you know that the well known words engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the Statue of Liberty were written by a Jewish woman whose family were immigrants?

"The New Colossus"
by Emma Lazarus

"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows worldwide welcome;
her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! cries she
With silent lips.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" 

Emma Lazarus was an American writer. Born: 22 July 1849 in New York City.
She died: 19 November 1887 (Hodgkin's disease)
She was best known as the author of the poem she wrote in 1883. "The New Colossus," is inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. (1903)

Emma grew up in a prosperous Jewish family in New York and began writing poems as a teenager. In 1886 her father published her first collection, ‘Poems and Translations.’ She attracted the attention and support of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and soon found herself a member in the elite literary circles of New York City.

In the 1880s she was moved by the news of the Russian and Eastern European persecution of Jews and she become more active as an advocate for Jewish immigrants. She published many well-received poems and essays, including "The New Colossus," now one of the most often quoted poems in U.S. history, especially the lines "Give me your tired, your poor - Your huddled masses yearning to be free”

The Statue of Liberty was not conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became so as immigrant ships passed under the statue. However, it was Emma’s poem that permanently stamped on Miss Liberty the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants.

The poem reinvented the statue's purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world.

The Holocaust was primarily a European story in which the Jews of that continent were targeted for total destruction. During WWII many Jews in the United States were also part of this history, whether as vocal citizens publicly protesting for a more humane refugee policy or as patriotic members of the U.S. armed forces. After the war, tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors emigrated to the United States and built new lives in their adopted homeland.

They brought with them their gifts, talents, skills, trades, expertise and knowledge which were used as they assimilated into the various states in the United States of America.

May was established as Jewish American Heritage Month in 2006.

No comments: