May 16, 2024

Jewish American Heritage Month: Matt Cooper

Matt Cooper

Matt Cooper, the Recreation Facilities Manager at the Schoolcraft College Fitness Center, reflects on the meaning of Jewish American Heritage Month.

Having a month dedicated to Jewish heritage is a meaningful addition to the calendar for Matt Cooper.

Cooper, the Recreation Facilities Manager for the Schoolcraft College Fitness Center, said National Jewish American Heritage Month is a wonderful way to recognize the contributions of Jewish Americans throughout the nation’s history.

“It’s a good feeling to be recognized in a positive way on a national level like that. It brings the history, culture, accomplishments and most importantly, the existence, of the Jewish people to the forefront of people’s minds, if only for a short time,” he said. “It also helps negate the many harmful stereotypes and biases associated with Jews. I think what minority populations ultimately want is to be acknowledged and accepted, and as a religious minority, Jewish people are no exception.”

National Jewish American Heritage Month began in 2006 with a declaration by then-President George W. Bush. Since then, the month has been observed across the country, marking the contributions of Jewish people to the United States.

Having the month to recognize Jewish heritage helps recognize the contributions of an important group. Growing up in a diverse community, Cooper said they did not think twice about the differences between his neighbors and himself. That changed when he went to college and realized that’s not always the case.

Understanding and celebrating the differences between people is crucial to higher education, whether it’s a large university or a smaller community college.

“Having basic knowledge and understanding about other races, religions, beliefs, and experiences that differ from yours leads to increased tolerance and empathy towards others both on campus and in the community,” he said. “I wish more people understood that you can still stay true to your own beliefs while respecting and acknowledging the beliefs of others.”

Like many other cultures, Cooper said his Jewish heritage stems from family influence. He said many of the traditional gatherings happened at his grandparents’ house.

“They were the true leaders of our family, the storytellers and the all-knowing source of information for our family history,” he said. “I always admired their ability to look at an old photo and tell me everything about that particular day, who was there, and what they were doing.”

The feeling of family has connected for a long time for Cooper: he said one of his favorite quotes comes from his mother: “Be kind, smile, and make a difference.”

“That was my mom’s favorite quote, and we even had it inscribed on her headstone when she passed away,” Cooper said. “I like to think that I get a lot of my best qualities from her!”

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