Last Thursday was not only our national Thanksgiving holiday but was also the first full day of Chanukah. The celebration of Chanukah in America goes roughly as far back as the first Thanksgiving. Teaching your students about colonial and American Jewish history will aid your classroom's understanding of the forging of religious and civil freedoms in the United States.
The first Jewish groups to immigrate to the American colonies did not have an easy time of it. Various cities closed their doors to the entry of Jewish immigrants. The immigrant groups did not accept this discrimination and appealed to town leaders and trading companies to repeal exclusion laws. This petition from 1655 is a primary example to incorporate in the classroom to demonstrate how the Jewish community appealed for religious inclusion in New Amsterdam.
HSP's lesson plan, The Promise and Challenge of Religious Freedom, incorporates this document and three other primary sources regarding religious freedoms before and after the First Amendment of 1791. For a broad range of primary sources about social freedoms to incorporate in your American history lessons, check out our online digital history project Preserving American Freedom. For background reading on Jewish history in the American context, refer to any of the many Jewish resources HSP has available for you.
Considering Jewish history in your classroom is vital, both to teaching about the identity of America and on topics of religious freedom and social equality. On the topic of cultural expression and diffusion, check out the lesson plan, South Philly Kaleidoscope, which covers topics of local ethnic history and the mixing of culture, which includes the Jewish community. The minority groups of America, ever since the colonial times, have key roles in the longstanding tradition of movement for social equality and just recognition, influencing the America we know today.
In teaching about Chanukah or other topics within Jewish immigration and history, HSP can help enliven your lesson plan with info and images of Jewish organizations, Jewish holiday postcards, newspaper articles, immigration records, 20th century records, and historical academic recordings discussing Jewish persecution. Additionally, if you get a chance to visit the National Museum of American Jewish History with your students, go for it! They have curriculum plans and teacher resources available in conjunction with an immersive museum experience.