Jewish American Heritage Month, celebrated in May, recognizes the achievements of American Jews and contributions American Jews have made, and continue to make, to the history, culture, and society of the USA. This month was established in the USA in 2006 and has continued through Presidential Proclamation.
This week, our Cincinnati Consultant, Anuja Agnihotri, spoke to three of her colleagues – Tracy Juran and Lauren Asquith from Cincinnati, and Jason Reinhart from New York, on what they love about the Jewish culture and what being an American Jew means to them.
Can you talk a little bit about yourself?
Lauren: I was born and raised in Cincinnati. I lived in Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina before coming back to Cincinnati for my marriage and raising my family. I have a 15-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. I have been with SEI for a little over three years. Before SEI, I worked in TV news, for a Software company, and local advertising agencies.
Tracy: I am originally from Cleveland and went to the Ohio State University for college. I moved to Cincinnati for a consulting job and thought I would move after a few years, but it’s been 11 years and we are still here! I joined SEI just over five years ago. I have a 2-year-old son, and my husband and I love to put stamps on our passports. I am very involved in the Cincinnati Jewish community; I chair the Young Adult division of Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and was on the board of Jewish day school for six years.
Jason: I am from the suburbs of Philadelphia. I attended Indiana University Bloomington and then moved to Chicago for about four years up until the pandemic. I was then one of the few people who moved into New York City during the pandemic in late 2020. I love Philly sports, exercising, cooking, and hanging out with friends and family. Professionally, I was in software and cloud computing consulting roles before joining SEI in November 2021.
What part of the Jewish culture do you celebrate or like the most?
Lauren: I enjoy the tradition around it and celebrating holidays with family. I love hearing stories from my parents about how they grew up celebrating. While my family doesn’t go to temple often, we still try to celebrate the holidays with family. A lot of my family was killed in the Holocaust. My grandfather and his brother wrote a book in German, which I keep on my nightstand, describing our family’s experience. I want my kids to be aware of and know their family history. I see them learning about it by talking to family members and finding a way to continue traditions to stay connected to our family history.
Tracy: The food, of course! Judaism is all about connecting with family and telling stories while sharing a meal. One of the most unique things about Judaism is that it is both a race and a religion. Being Jewish is manifested most strongly in our values and traditions and how we raise our families.
Jason: My favorite aspect is being a part of the Jewish community. While I do not actively participate in much of the religious traditions, I do like being a part of a group that shares similar values and really looks out for one another. Another part of the Jewish culture I enjoy is that we take pride in being a joyous bunch and celebrating as much as possible. Eating and drinking with your loved ones is a very consistent theme across the Jewish religion and culture.
What does it mean to be a Jewish American? Does experience growing up depend on what part of America you are in?
Lauren: I love the community aspect of being Jewish American, but your experience as a Jewish American might depend on what part of Cincinnati you grew up in. In the part of town I lived in through eighth grade, I was the only Jewish kid in school. For that reason, we moved to Blue Ash, which helped me tremendously to feel comfortable again and feel a sense of community. My husband is Catholic, so we celebrate all holidays in our family now. We want to make sure our kids appreciate both their parents’ religions.
Tracy: Being a Jew in America is varied. From my perspective, a lot of it depends on where your family was during WW2 because that shapes family culture, and it varies from person to person. As Jews, we have a continued responsibility to support and protect all marginalized groups of people. Meanwhile, antisemitism is as real as ever and has been on the rise in the last eight years. One of the most challenging but rewarding aspects of American Jewry is helping to educate others on Israel, its people, and its history. Israel truly is a magical country in which Jews, Arabs, and Christians mostly live together in peace and are free to observe their faiths amongst historical sites that have been preserved for thousands of years.
Jason: Well, it’s complicated. A Jewish experience can vary widely depending on where you are within the world. Walking around Manhattan certainly has a different feel when compared to other parts of the country. I grew up in a relatively diverse town, and while certainly being in the minority, I was always exposed to different cultural backgrounds. But at the same time, while attending a large university, there were other students who had never met a Jewish person at that point in their life. So, in that respect, there is a certain responsibility to educate and expose people to what it means to be a Jewish American.
What part of your SEI journey has been most memorable for you?
Lauren: The people I have met and friends I’ve made along the way have been the most memorable part of my SEI journey, and that’s what keeps me at SEI. I feel a strong sense of community with the people I work with.
Tracy: There are so many specific moments to choose from, but overarchingly the friendships I have made are what stand out to me. When you know people deeply, that’s what keeps you here.
Jason: The opportunity to learn has been my favorite part so far. I am actively encouraged to do things (outside of everyday work) to develop both personally and professionally. The people I work with are also incredible; I have a strong respect for my coworkers and genuinely consider them to be my friends.
What are you most looking forward to in SEI’s DE&I journey?
Lauren: In the three years since I started, SEI has made a lot of strides in becoming more diverse and making sure we’re inclusive – we bring more viewpoints and different talent into the mix. I am looking forward to experiencing things I normally wouldn’t think about myself, like volunteering for diverse groups and organizations.
Tracy: Continue to get to know people on a more human level, making sure whatever stage of life they are in, SEI can support them through their personal endeavors and partake in both celebrations and difficult moments. I am also excited about looking more critically to ensure we are reaching all the top and diverse talent available to us in the local market.
Jason: In our NYC DE&I Teams channel, we are constantly given the opportunity to participate in a variety of DE&I events. For example, we go to different heritage museums, restaurants, and charity events, all of which give us the chance to experience things we may not do on our own. The NYC consultants are also comfortable sharing personal stories or holiday information based on their background to educate others.
At SEI, we value, and are proud of, our diverse talent and continue to provide avenues for everyone to flourish, both personally and professionally.