Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) is a month to celebrate and recognize the achievements and contributions that American Jews have made to American culture, history, military, science, government and more since we first arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654. JAHM was started in 1980, and on February 14, 2006, Congress issued House Concurrent Resolution 315 which stated:
Resolved … that Congress urges the President to issue each year a proclamation calling on state and local governments and the people of the United States to observe an American Jewish History Month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
Celebrating and recognizing the contributions made by American Jews in virtually every field is something that Mel Wacks, a member of the Advisory Council of Jewish American Heritage Months and founder of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, does almost every day. Wacks, born and raised in The Bronx, founded the Jewish-American Hall of Fame over 50 years ago and has almost single-handedly established a presence online and in major Jewish institutions stretching from New York to Richmond to Berkeley to Cincinnati. Launched at the Judah L. Magnes Museum (Berkeley) in 1969, the Jewish-American Hall of Fame became a division of the American Jewish Historical Society (New York) in 2001.
This year, as in past years, Mel is running a “THANKS!” social media campaign; those being thanked by the Jewish-American Hall of Fame include Martin Cooper for the cell phone; Gerty Cori for diabetes treatment; Gertrude Elion for organ transplants; Ralph Baer for video games; Selman Waksman for antibiotics; Mayim Bialik for her research on hormones and parent-child bonding; Albert Einstein for E = mc2, Robert Ledley (Levy) for the CAT scan; Stan Ovshinsky for the flat screen; Stanley Miller for research on the origin of life; and there are many more.
Promoting Jewish American Heritage is a family affair. Wacks’ daughter Shari handles the social media promotion of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame’s Jewish American Heritage Month.
This year, Wacks also contacted over a half dozen of the leading classical music stations, asking that they feature works composed or played by Jewish Americans. He also wrote an important book, “Medals of the Jewish American Hall of Fame 1969-2019.” (https://archive.org/details/ JewishAmericanHallOfFameMedals 2&view=theater/page/n0/mode/ 2up)
The American Jewish Hall of Fame is a museum in cyberspace. Its virtual tour takes you through 500 years of Jewish-American history—from Jews who helped Christopher Columbus, to Barbara Streisand, biographies and quizzes about their approximately 50 inductees, videos, links and more. There is also an exhibit of over 100 Albert Einstein medals.
There is a permanent exhibit of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame plaques at the Virginia Holocaust Museum (Richmond), and you can collect Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals, one of the longest and most distinguished series of art medals produced in America. Since 1969 over 25,000 Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals have been issued, finding homes in collections and museums around the world, as far away as China.
Wacks would like to see Jewish American Heritage Month in May receive the same media attention as Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March). He has vowed to continue to promote the great accomplishments of Jews in America, and hopes that others will do the same.
For more information and to find out how to support the Jewish-American Hall of Fame by ordering a medal, you can contact Wacks at [email protected] Tell him you read the article in The Jewish Link and you will get a 25% discount. www.amuseum.org.