Nebraska becomes first state to inaugurate Jewish American Heritage Month

The state is also the 27th to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

 (From Left to Right): Elan Carr, Milton Kleinberg, Governor Pete Ricketts, Ellie Cohanim and Adam Beren (photo credit: COMBAT ANTISEMITISM MOVEMENT)
(From Left to Right): Elan Carr, Milton Kleinberg, Governor Pete Ricketts, Ellie Cohanim and Adam Beren
(photo credit: COMBAT ANTISEMITISM MOVEMENT)

Last Thursday, on Israel’s Independence Day, during a celebratory event at the Nebraska Capitol Building, Gov. Pete Ricketts made the historic decision to inaugurate May as Jewish American Heritage Month in Nebraska, becoming the first US state to do so.

He also proclaimed the official adoption by the State of Nebraska of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism. In doing so, the number of US states that have adopted or endorsed the IHRA definition is now 26 (plus the District of Columbia), meaning that the majority of states now officially recognize it.

“We’ve seen a disturbing rise in antisemitism across the country,” Ricketts said. “Here in Nebraska, we’re not immune to it. Someone painted a swastika on a synagogue here in Lincoln. We see this rise in antisemitism and must be aggressive in combating it. We must let people know we will stand against hate.”

“When we see antisemitism, we have to take very strong steps immediately to combat it,” he said. “That’s why we want to make this proclamation to recognize the Jewish community’s contributions to Nebraska and the nation.”

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Oded Forer sent a letter of appreciation to Ricketts for his adoption of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and the deep ties between Israel and Nebraska.

PROTESTING OUTSIDE a meeting of the British Labour Party’s National Executive, which was set to discuss the party’s definition of antisemitism, in London in September 2018 (credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS)PROTESTING OUTSIDE a meeting of the British Labour Party’s National Executive, which was set to discuss the party’s definition of antisemitism, in London in September 2018 (credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS)

In the letter, which was read out at the event, Forer commended the “significant gesture to recognize the deep and substantial contribution Jewish Americans have made and continue to make to Nebraska in particular and to the United States as a whole.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), which is a leading proponent of the IHRA definition and has worked to have it adopted and endorsed in the US and around the world.

Other partners included the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. Representatives from each of Nebraska’s eight synagogues and the Jewish Federation of Omaha were in attendance.

“With the State of Nebraska’s endorsement, the majority of US states have now adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which is now a tipping point for its success, meaning that only a minority of states have yet to do so,” said Elan Carr, a CAM board member and former US special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism.

“While there remains resistance to the IHRA definition, it is a minority voice and is becoming increasingly drowned out by decision-makers and opinion-shapers across the US and the world who are placing their authority behind it and leaving less room for antisemites to espouse their hate and intolerance,” he said.

Nebraska Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Milton “Milt” Kleinberg said: “I’m Jewish and I have always loved the free state of Nebraska. I could have taken my business to Texas, but Nebraska is home, and our governor is a friend.”

Other speakers included Israeli Consul General to the Midwest Yinam Cohen and Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnan.

Thirty-seven nations and almost 900 entities around the world have adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism since 2016, including the US, Canada, Germany, the UK, Australia and France, CAM reported in March.

Jews are only 0.5% of the population in Nebraska, according to the 2020 American Jewish Year Book. Two weeks ago, Arizona voted to adopt the IHRA’s Working Definition of Antisemitism. In addition, Ohio adopted the definition in an executive order three weeks ago.