Celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month

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Washington, DC, May 11, 2015 | comments

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

By Sergio Carmona

May 11, 2015, 3:55 PM

The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU is presenting two events this month in commemoration of Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM).

JAHM is a national commemoration of the contributions American Jews have made to the fabric of the nation's history, culture and society. It was initiated by the Jewish Museum of Florida with the effort led by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and enacted by the 109th Congress. Former President George W. Bush signed a resolution in 2006 that each May would be JAHM.

The two events taking place at the museum, 301 Washington Ave. in Miami Beach, include a lecture, "American Jews in the Fashion Industry," presented by Keni Valenti, founder , director and head curator of the Museum of Fashion in Miami, on May 17 at 2 p.m. and a special edit-a-thon hosted by Wasserman Schultz on May 31 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public. The museum's partnering co-sponsors for both events are the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and Jewish Federation of Broward County's Community Relations Committee.

During his lecture, Valenti will give an overview of the history regarding American Jews in the fashion industry, starting with the Jewish pioneers in the garment business such as Levi Strauss to many of the other well-known names in the industry including Ralph Lauren, Anne Klein Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole, Michael Kors and more. He hopes that the guests can learn the importance of American Jews' contributions to the fashion industry.

"There are so many Jewish people involved in [fashion] manufacturing all over the United States. Every big city in the United States has had a garment center that has been basically run and operated by Jewish people," Valenti noted. "We also had Mr. [Isaac Merritt] Singer's sewing machine that enabled everyone to start manufacturing companies. Jews had the foresight to see this [fashion industry] as a profitable business which is incredible."

During the May 17 event, the museum will also celebrate the 95th birthday of Miami Beach's children's clothing designer, Sylvia Whyte, who at the close of World War II, opened an exclusive retail shop on Lincoln Road that was an instant success. Whyte began manufacturing high-end infant wear and clothes for girls up to preteens in 1962 and her namesake label was sold at stores all over the country, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Macy's.

"She had quite an amazing career and designed children's clothing that many famous politicians and movie stars purchased for their children so we're very excited to be able to highlight her on her 95th birthday as well as "American Jews in the Fashion Industry," said Jo Ann Arnowitz, the museum's executive director and chief curator.

The goal of the May 31 edit-a-thon hosted by Wasserman Schultz is to edit and create Wikipedia pages about American Jews. Using the information and objects in the museum's collection, participants will upload details that will correct and enhance as many Wikipedia pages as possible. Students and scholars are encouraged to attend as basic editing training will be provided. Participants are required to bring their own laptops or tablets. Refreshments will be provided.

"We think we have a lot of important stories here and we want to make sure that the proper information gets out to the world through our efforts," Arnowitz said.

Wasserman Schultz noted that the museum has worked tirelessly over the years to collect and preserve information on Florida's Jewish experience, mainly from family members and local archives.

"Participants, including myself, will upload this information to either update or create Wikipedia pages for Jewish Floridians," she added. "In a way, participants will become virtual historians, helping to spread information and knowledge to those who don't have the benefit of visiting the JMOF on Miami Beach."

RSVP for the fashion event by May 15 and for the edit-a-thon by May 29 by emailing info@jewishmuseum.comor calling 786-972-3175. Space is limited for the edit-a-thon and RSVP can also be done at http://bit.ly/JMOFeditathon.

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