WLALA President 2020-2021
May is Jewish American Heritage Month. Did you recognize it? Did you know that Jewish American Heritage Month exists? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” you are not alone. In 2006, President George W. Bush proclaimed the month of May as Jewish American Heritage Month. Since then, Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden have recognized May as Jewish Heritage Month. President Obama said that May “is a chance for Americans of every faith to appreciate the contributions of the Jewish people throughout our history – often in the face of unspeakable discrimination and adversity. For hundreds of years, Jewish Americans have fought heroically in battle and inspired us to pursue peace. They’ve built our cities, cured our sick. They’ve paved the way in the sciences and the law, in our politics and in the arts. They remain our leaders, our teachers, our neighbors and our friends. Not bad for a band of believers who have been tested from the moment that they came together and professed their faith. The Jewish people have always persevered.”
Unfortunately, the United States has a rich history of Antisemitism. In 1862, Major General Ulysses S. Grant expelled Jews from areas of western Tennessee that were under his control. One of General Grant’s aides, Colonel John V. DuBois, ordered that “all cotton speculators, Jews, and all vagabonds with no honest means of support” leave and that the “Israelites especially should be kept out … they are such an intolerable nuisance.” During World War I, a United States Army manual published for recruiting purposes stated that, “[t]he foreign born, and especially Jews, are more apt to malinger than the native-born.” In America, Jews have been discriminated against in employment, access to residential areas and hotels, membership in clubs and organizations and in quotas on Jewish enrollment and teaching positions in colleges and universities. People have historically labeled Jews as greedy and dishonest. Unfortunately, these negative stereotypes and labels still persist and they continue to propagate a baseless, yet often repeated stereotype, that Jews have too much power. Vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues and the popularized use of Swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans are current and widespread issues dating back to the Holocaust.
This May, Antisemitic hate crimes increased 80% nationwide. California alone saw a 60% increase in Antisemitic incidents. WLALA condemns Antisemitism in all its forms. I invite and encourage you to read our Statement Condemning Antisemitism. May has ended; however, the contributions that Jewish Americans have made and continue to make to America have not. In a 2018 interview, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked how her Jewishness affected her work as a lawyer and a Supreme Court Justice. She responded that it did in the “sense of being an outsider — of being one of the people who had suffered oppression for no … no sensible reason….It makes you more empathetic to other people who are not insiders, who are outsiders….The sense of being a member of a minority group that somehow has survived generations and generations of hatred and plundering.” ברוך דיין האמת. Baruch dayan ha’emet. Blessed is the true justice.
Central to the foundations of Jewish tradition are treating strangers with kindness – a commandment mentioned no less than 36 times in the Torah – and “not [to] stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:16.) The late Justice Louis Brandeis said: “It is not wealth, it is not station, it is not social standing and ambition which can make us worthy of the Jewish name, of the Jewish heritage. To be worthy of them, we must live up to and with them. We must regard ourselves their custodians.” This June, it is an honor to celebrate the Jewish American jurists who survived generations of hatred and plundering and who have shaped and are continuing the shape the future.
Of the 115 Justices to serve on the United States Supreme Court, eight have been Jewish. Justice Brandeis is one of them. Of those eight, two are women: One is Justice Ginsburg. The other is Associate Justice Elena Kagan. In the history of the California Supreme Court, five Jewish Americans have served as Justices, including current Associate Justice Leondra Kruger. For me, no list of Jewish American judges would be complete without including two of my favorites: Justice Helen I. Bendix and Hon. John A. Kronstadt.
In the history of the United States Attorneys General, there have been five Jewish Americans who have served as United States Attorney General. Zero of them are women. During his confirmation hearing in February of this year, Merrick Garland said: “I come from a family where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us…I feel an obligation to the country to pay back and this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back.”
Forty-one (41) Jewish Americans have served as State Attorneys General. Of those 41, three are women: Dana Michelle Nessel (Michigan), Ellen F. Rosenblum (Oregon) and Deborah Tobias Poritz (New Jersey). When Stanley Mosk was elected as the Attorney General of California, he became the first Jewish person to serve as an executive branch officer in California. Ms. Nessel is the first openly LGBTQIA+ person to be elected to statewide office in Michigan and the first Jewish person to be elected as Attorney General of Michigan. She successfully argued DeBoer v. Snyder, which declared that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. That case eventually became part of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. Happy Pride!
Thirteen Jewish Americans have served as United States Attorney and two of them are women: Joyce Vance, who served as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and Audrey Strauss, who currently serves as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Under Ms. Vance’s leadership, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama engaged with the University of Alabama on allegations of racial discrimination in the university’s sorority rush process. In that case, students had reported that university alumni were attempting to persuade sororities to refuse admission to minority candidates. In 2014, Ms. Vance prosecuted a man for trying to hire a Ku Klux Klan member to murder his African American neighbor.
In 2015, Justice Ginsburg and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt wrote the following in an insert to the American Jewish Service’s Passover Haggadah: “While there is much light in today’s world, there remains in our universe disheartening darkness, inhumanity spawned by ignorance and hate….[W]ith vision and action we can join hands with others of like mind, kindling lights along paths leading out of the terrifying darkness.” Today, Antisemitism is rampant. It is not a thing of the past. We must play a role in addressing and responding to the rise in Antisemitic hate crimes. To the generations of jurists who came before and stood up to Antisemitism and to those who are combatting and standing up to Antisemitism: Thank you. I am humbled to honor you this month and every month. I stand ready and willing to join and Lead Like a Girl with you on this path out of terrifying darkness.
Albert Einstein wrote: “The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the desire for personal independence – these are the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank my stars that I belong to it.” אני מסכים. Ani maskim. I agree.
 May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I invite you to read my May President’s Message and WLALA’s May Newsletter, in which we recognized and celebrated the Asian Pacific American community.
 Photo Footnote: The photos that appear where my headshot traditionally would appear were taken on January 28, 1995 – the day I became a Bat Mitzvah. Pictured with me are my grandpa Arnold Kronstadt (זכרונו לברכה, may his memory be a blessing), my mom and my sister.