On April 30, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation declaring the month of May Jewish American Heritage Month. For five years now, May has been set aside to recognize the “invaluable contributions Jewish Americans have made to our Nation.” As an organization devoted to outreach and as American Jews, we continue to be grateful for this meaningful act of inclusion. But what struck us about this year’s proclamation was a slight change in language, one we might have even had a hand in orchestrating.
Last year we pointed out in an open letter to President Obama that the proclamation stated “in the year of our Lord two thousand nine.” We respectfully corrected him to say that as Jews, the year of our Lord was fifty-seven sixty-nine. This year, the proclamation reads “in the year two thousand ten.” Though it’s not the year of the Jewish calendar, it does confirm that the administration wants to be as inclusive as possible. The only explanation for the change is that President Obama is a faithful reader of our blog and was personally touched by our constructive criticism.
However the change came about, we appreciate the greater sensitivity in the choice of words. By simply using a different phrase, President Obama demonstrated something we at JOI have been saying for many years: while some distinctions in language might seem inconsequential, they often make the difference between someone feeling welcomed, and someone feeling singled out. Thank you, President Obama, for recognizing just how important language is when trying to create a community that is inclusive to all.
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