Jewish American Heritage Month: Celebrating a Community With “Shalom” in Its Heart—For Everyone

The Hebrew word “shalom” doesn’t just mean hello and goodbye. Its whole meaning encompasses well-being, completeness, welfare and safety—all springing from its original meaning of peace. “Shalom” is so inclusive of good things that Christian writer Cornelius Plantinga defined it as “the way things ought to be.”

Original image by IrisPhoto2/iStock via Getty Images

So when one says “shalom” to another, one wishes that person a life of peace and fulfillment. Small wonder that so many synagogues have “shalom” in their names: Ohev Shalom (literally “The Love of Peace”), Beth Shalom (“House of Peace”), Shaare Shalom (“Gates of Peace”), Sukkat Shalom (“Tabernacle of Peace”), B’nai Shalom (“Children of Peace”), and Shir Shalom (“Song of Peace”).

The very name of the authorized prayer book compiled by the Rabbinical Assembly of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is Sim Shalom, which means “Grant Peace.”

Jewish American Heritage Month, observed this May, is a time to celebrate the many contributions of Jewish Americans to the fostering of Shalom in our country.

Achievements in science, technology, the arts, diplomacy and philosophy have added the ingredients of well-being, completeness, welfare, safety and peace that are vital to our culture in the short and long term.

But even as the “community of peace” has blessed us, those whose actions are inimical to peace have cast their shadow ever wider.

The statistics bear witness that hate is flourishing in the heart of America for a portion of its citizens. In 2022, incidents of antisemitic harassment, assault and violence hit their highest level—at 3,697—since the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) began tracking such in 1979—a 36% spike over the previous year.

In 2023, that record was shattered. American Jews endured an astonishing 8,873 incidents—an average of 24 anti-Jewish incidents per day—a 140 percent increase over the prior year in the country once known as a haven for all faiths.

“Antisemitism is nothing short of a national emergency, a five-alarm fire that is still raging across the country and in our local communities and campuses,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “Jewish Americans are being targeted for who they are at school, at work, on the street, in Jewish institutions and even at home.”

Suppose the haters and white supremacists had the brain space to accommodate a teaspoon of conscience. In that case, they might reflect on the debt they owe to Jewish people, if only for help in the swift dissemination of their message of bigotry: The social network platforms they rely upon so much to spew their bile exist only due to the efforts of cyber-pioneers of Jewish heritage, such as Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

From the ballpoint pens they use to scrawl notes to each other (invented by Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian-Argentine Jewish inventor) to the word processing technology to type their hate-ranting posts (conceived by Evelyn Berezin, a New York-born daughter of Jewish immigrants) to the cell phones they use to arrange their cabals (created by the Israeli engineers at Motorola’s Israel research and development center), Jew-haters everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to the dreams and brainchildren of the people they hate.

Observant Jews pray three times a day. The liturgy they have chanted since ancient times reveals a common thread: Shalom. The very name of the authorized prayer book compiled by the Rabbinical Assembly of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is Sim Shalom, which means “Grant Peace.” Indeed, prayers for peace permeate the religious ceremonies of the Jewish people, and not just for themselves, but for others as well: “Grant peace, happiness, and blessing to the world with grace, love and mercy for us and all people. Bless us, our Father, one and all, with Your light: for by that light did You teach us Torah and life, love and tenderness, justice, mercy, and peace.”

Those whose hearts overflow with hate and whose actions are born of malice would be well-advised this Jewish American Heritage Month that they—blinded with rage and manipulated by fear—even they are included in the prayers of those they would destroy, the Jewish community, Kahal Shalom, the community of peace. 

Michael Leb
Michael was raised and educated in a loving Orthodox Jewish family, later discovering Scientology as a perfect complement to the poetry and majesty of…