May 2024 marks the 19th consecutive annual celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM). President George W. Bush issued an executive order identifying this month back in 2006. This tradition has continued with each of his successors. Here’s President Biden’s from this year: Proclamation on Jewish American Heritage Month, 2024. Now commemorated by thousands of public and private partners, JAHM provides a forum for the Jewish community to celebrate its accomplishments and struggles as well as be recognized for our collective importance in American society.

On May 30th, NECHAMA CEO Stephan Kline participated in FEMA’s first celebration of JAHM in a program convened by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The Secretary is a child of Holocaust survivors and a refugee who fled the island in 1960 following the Cuban Revolution. He focused on his family’s history and how this is connected with FEMA’s mission. Disaster responders deal with the fragility of life every day when encountering traumatized clients victimized by extreme weather events. Mayorkas showcased a memento on his desk presented by a Holocaust survivor, emblazoned with the quote “caring is rebuilding a shattered world.”

Deanne Criswell, FEMA Administrator, and Marcus T. Coleman, Director of the DHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also shared remarks. The core of the JAHM event was a panel that focused on how Jewish values and experiences influenced our careers in emergency management and the Jewish community. The other panelists invited were Jarrod Bernstein, a former White House Jewish Liaison and DHS Assistant Secretary; Judge Rachel Frier, a New York Supreme Court Judge and founder of Ezras Nashim Volunteer Ambulance Service; and Mike Plostock, Senior Advisor for FEMA Office of Response and Recovery. This was the first time that DHS or any of its divisions had convened a dedicated JAHM event.

Stephan was honored to represent NECHAMA. He discussed the unique role our organization plays in providing disaster relief and shared insights garnered from his personal and professional Jewish journey. Stephan spoke about the importance of the Jewish community participating in disaster relief to support the broader community. NECHAMA is not providing relief because our clients are Jewish (typically they are not), but because of our need to engage in tikkun olam.