Jewish American Heritage Month is celebrated in May and honors the many contributions1 Jewish Americans have made to this country. In light of the rise in antisemitic attacks and rhetoric in this country, it is more important than ever to celebrate Jewish Americans. Many Jewish Americans have played a role in improving the lung health of their fellow Americans and this May we are going to honor some of them that are in our very own (virtual) backyard. Below you will hear from five American Lung Association staff members about how being Jewish has impacted their work at the organization.

Mike Seilback, National Assistant Vice President, State and Public Policy

For me, my work at the Lung Association meshes in a fundamental way with the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, acts of kindness to heal the world. Tikkun Olam was at the heart of my Hebrew school education; and continued to be interwoven into the fabric of our local JCC summer camp where I was a camp counselor and leader. As I grew older and pursued a career in public service, first in government and then in non-profit advocacy, the idea of healing the world was a crucial mindset for the work that I did. Whether focused on urging decisionmakers to ensure that the air we breathe is clean, passing laws to protect our children from becoming another generation addicted to tobacco, helping pass policies to ensure that patients can prevent and manage lung disease, or working with researchers and scientists to find cures, all parts of our mission work help heal the world.

Mike and Leslie Haft Seilback as camp counselors in 1996. Mike and Leslie Haft Seilback as camp counselors in 1996.
Susan and her husband (left) look on as their son gets married under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy called a chuppah. Susan and her husband (left) look on as their son gets married under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy called a chuppah.

Susan Rappaport, National Vice President, Research and Scientific Affairs

For me, my 39 years at the Lung Association can be summed up in these words from Rabbi Hillel, a Jewish leader and scholar:

But if I am only for myself, who am I?
If I am not for others, what am I?
If not now, when?

And that says it all.

And also, because my mother told me to become an epidemiologist. 😊 (that is not entirely a joke)2

Rachel Sanford, Health Promotions Coordinator

I attended religious school from pre-k through 10th grade when I completed Confirmation. Our program had a strong focus on advocacy and social justice. From an early age I learned about Tikkun Olam or the repair of the world, and I believe that this is a large part of what drove me to my current profession as a social worker. We were required to participate in community service projects and assist a variety of community organizations in St. Louis throughout the program. I can still distinctly remember those experiences, and I believe that learning about social disparities in my community and seeing how much work needed to be done in St. Louis led me to do the work I’m doing today.

Rachel and her Tikkun Olam tattoo Rachel and her Tikkun Olam tattoo
Carly and her brother pose with her late grandparents, Walter and Ruth Hamburger circa 1995. Carly and her brother pose with her late grandparents, Walter and Ruth Hamburger circa 1995.

Carly Hamburger Ornstein, National Director, Lung Cancer Education

My paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors, escaping Germany as young children and eventually settling in Pennsylvania. They took their trauma and channeled it into philanthropy, taking leadership roles in many Jewish organizations and even volunteering at the local hospital on Christmas. My grandparents showed me that being a Jewish American meant resilience and generosity. When I was in college, my grandmother died of lung cancer and several years later her son (my father) was diagnosed with lung cancer as well. Being able to help others by developing lung cancer educational materials, interventions and support programs allows me to give back to people in need as well as honor my family, two important tenants of Judaism.

Cynthia Rosen, Coordinator, Health Promotions

Jewish tradition teaches us to seek justice, tzedak, and to care for those in our communities who are vulnerable to make the world a better, more just place. These values I learned through the actions of my parents and have tried to model for my children. These are values I bring to work as an asthma educator and member of the Health Promotions Asthma Team in New York. Health equity is a social justice issue and addressing disparities is central to the work we do. Engaging communities and health systems across NY state to reduce the burden of asthma for those most affected can help bend the arc towards justice.

My sign from the March for our Lives in Washington DC and a daily reminder to be the one. My sign from the March for our Lives in Washington DC and a daily reminder to be the one.

Being a Jewish American is a unique experience but as you can see from the stories above, themes of philanthropy and public service are highly present in many Jewish teachings. The American Lung Association is proud to honor the contributions of Jewish Americans, especially those who have served to implement the Lung Association’s mission of saving lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease.


Footnotes:

  1. Space lasers not included
  2. Comedy is a large part of Jewish culture.
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