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May as Jewish American Heritage Month

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The month of May brings warm weather, flowers and the start of summer. For many Americans, this time signals something even more significant here in Alabama.

May is Jewish American Heritage Month. It is a celebration created to recognize the contributions of the Jewish people to American society and culture.

Jewish people first arrived in America in 1654, when a small band of only 23 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution sailed into port in what would become modern-day New York City.

Since this time, Jewish people have presented an important legacy in the United States, and in Alabama.

The first permanent Jewish community in Alabama was established in the 1820s in Mobile. Eastern European Jewish immigrants began to arrive in Alabama early in the 1870s. These trailblazers created their own Orthodox congregations in Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham.

Margaret Norman is the director of programming and engagement at Temple Beth El, a Conservative synagogue located in Birmingham.

She said the city of Birmingham was one of the first in Alabama to have Jewish arrivals the year of its founding.

“Jews have actually really been part of the fabric of Birmingham since the beginning,” Norman said. “The first Jewish arrivals came in the year of Birmingham founding. I think a lot of people assume that they would have been from like another country like Eastern Europe or Germany, But the first arrivals here were actually from Montgomery and Selma.”

Norman said Jewish history in Alabama is something more Alabamians should take notice of.

“People are surprised that Jews have always been active in the city, very civically engaged, very professionally engaged, and people are just surprised to learn about that history at all,” Norman said. “Because when we think about Jewish history, I think we tend to think about sort of bigger population centers, like coastal cities or New York, and, and Southern Jewish history is different in a lot of ways.”

For those wanting to learn more about Jewish History, Norman recommends taking a tour through the Beth El Civil Rights Experience.

Caroline Karrh is a student intern in the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. She majors in News Media and Communication Studies at The University of Alabama. She loves to read, write and report. When she is not in the newsroom, Caroline enjoys spending time with her friends and family, reading romance novels and coaching soccer.

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