Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) is a national commemoration of the contributions that Americans Jews have made to the fabric of our nation’s history, culture, and society. The theme for May 2019 is American Jewish Illustrators. Established by the presidential proclamation of George W. Bush in 2006 and renewed every year since, JAHM encourages people of all backgrounds to learn about and draw inspiration from the more than 360-year history of Jewish life in this country.
“By celebrating JAHM, we honor the values of inclusion and religious pluralism cherished by this country,” said Ivy Barsky, CEO and Gwen Goodman Director of the National Museum of American Jewish History, the lead sponsor of JAHM. “This year’s theme provides an opportunity to highlight the many American Jews who have helped create the nation’s beloved children’s books, iconic superheroes, and cartoons.”
Through the prism of their Jewish identity, and often through the lens of social justice, these creatives make poignant observations about the world around them, offering powerful commentary on contemporary issues through their universal medium. Ezra Jack Keats (1916 – 1983), broke ground with Caldecott Award-winner The Snowy Day, the first full-color picture book to feature an African American protagonist “simply because he should have been there all along.”
American publishing houses were off-limits to Jews in the early 20th century, paving the way for Jewish pioneers in a medium considered second-rate: comic books. Stan Lee (1922 – 2018), though not an illustrator himself, gave the world legendary Marvel superheroes, including Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, and the X Men, often featuring outsider themes.
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Rube Goldberg (1883 – 1970) – one of the most prolific cartoon illustrators of the twentieth century – is most popularly known for his invention drawings about “man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.”
Today’s landscape features many powerful female voices, such as award-winning author and cartoonist Roz Chast, who hilariously yet sensitively explores the horror and humor of grown children caring for aging parents, in Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?; Instagram-famous Fulbright Fellow Liana Finck‘s cartoons tackle themes from online dating to antisemitism; and Maira Kalman, best known for her New Yorker covers, explored American democracy at work in her blog “And the Pursuit of Happiness” for The New York Times.
The JAHM website and resource booklet, Indelible Ink, provide ways to connect to JAHM, including a public calendar to submit related events, tips for promoting excitement and awareness about JAHM, and selected bios and resources to learn more. Download the booklet or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request hard copies.