Community News

On May 23, Alexandria City Council Recognized Jewish American Heritage Month for the First Time

Left to right, Jason Kaufman, Rabbi Steven I.Rein, Zachary Barkley, Mayor Justin Wilson. Background: City Councilmember Sarah Bagley, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, Councilmember Kirk McPike (Photo: Anh Phan)

ALEXANDRIA, VA -June is here with its roses and heat and smog. But with May still lingering in the rear-view mirror, we pause to look back at Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), commemorated in the month of May.

JAHM is an annual recognition and celebration of the achievements and contributions of Jews to the mosaic of American life and culture throughout their 350-year history in the United States. (It was first recognized in April 2006 following the passage of resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.)

On Tuesday, Mary 23, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson honored leaders of the Alexandria Jewish community in City Council Chambers. He pointed out that day was the first time Council has recognized the occasion.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: 200 Gather at Alexandria’s Market Square to Remember the Holocaust

“At a time when we are seeing an increase in antisemitism in our country, unfortunately, it is important to adopt proclamations like this,” he said. “Not only to recognize the rich heritage of our Alexandria Jewish community and the contributions Jewish Alexandrians have made for generations in our community, but also to be a continuous message in the face of that unfortunate tide we are seeing.”

Wilson spotlighted two congregations in the city that have been present for more than a century:  Beth El Hebrew Congregation,  founded in 1859, and  Agudas Achim Congregation in 1914. (Alexandria’s first Jewish mayor, Leroy Bendheim, served the city from 1955-1961.)

Wilson then presented a Proclamation, proclaiming May Jewish American Heritage Month in the City of Alexandria. He also made a promise that the city would celebrate JAHM every May.

“In receiving this proclamation on behalf of the Jewish community of Alexandria, I am drawn to celebrate the close relationship between who we are as Americans and who we are as Jews,” said Rabbi Steven I. Rein. “After all, any student of American history knows that our nation’s identity was founded on the bedrock of the Hebrew Bible.

“Nowhere is this more evident than the words and deeds of the Declaration of Independence. From the very beginning, the spirit of American life has been proudly drawn from our sacred text.”

Also representing the Alexandria Jewish community were Zachary Barkley of the American Jewish Committee and Cantor Jason Kaufman of Beth El Hebrew Congregation.

“Beth El is proud to call Alexandria our home,” Kaufman said. “We are proud to partner with neighboring Jewish communities, with other communities of faith, and people of all backgrounds to make Alexandria the inclusive vibrant community that it is and that we know it can be, long into the future,”

Celebrating Shavuot

Two days after the appearance at Alexandria City Hall, Jews the world over celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, which marks the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The rabbi views the holiday as an appropriate way to end May.

Rabbi Steven I. Rein (Photo courtesy Agudas Achim Congregation)

“Think about this trajectory, beginning with Pesach liberation, freedom, then we began counting up between Passover and Shavuot, and now we reach a time of celebration as we receive the Torah, our tradition,” he remarked. On the one hand, you can say it’s the culmination of receiving the Torah, our heritage, our tradition. On the other hand, it’s just the beginning. That’s when the real work begins.”

Rein shared his belielf that if heritage months begin and end with the calendar month, then the point of celebrating them is missed.

“It’s about beginning an important conversation, not ending one,” he said.

Reflections of a Jewish Councilmember

City Councilmember Sarah Bagley attended the ceremony  that Tuesday, and spoke with The Zebra afterward about her experience growing up in a small Jewish community in Southeast Virginia.

“I was [from] one of a few Jewish families in my public school,” she said . “This gave me valuable insight into both our status as a minority [and] also how an inclusive community has space for everyone and how that diversity makes our Commonwealth and country stronger.”

Councilmember Sarah R. Bagley (Photo: Bagley Campaign)

Bagley touched on the importance of living in an accepting community as well, calling it a “privilege” to live in “a tolerant and representative democracy,” she said.  “My Jewish family immigrated to this country in search of a better life, and in doing so, created immense opportunity for me.  I aim to honor that history with my service to Alexandria.”

MORE GOOD NEWS: Safe Space NOVA and City of Alexandria Hosting Pride Prom

Related Articles

Back to top button