Juneteenth, June 19, is annually observed as the celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It doesn’t commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation — which formally freed enslaved people on September 22, 1862 — but rather, when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, announcing all enslaved people in Texas were free. (Basically, in Texas, those who held people in slavery refused to acknowledge the Emancipation Proclamation until Granger’s announcement.)
Celebrations began the following year in 1866, spreading in subsequent years across the American South, and growing in popularity in the 1970s. On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth officially became a Texas state holiday. Rep. Al Edwards put forward the bill that made Texas the first state to grant this emancipation celebration; since then, 45 other states (and the District of Columbia!) have commemorated or recognized Juneteenth in some way. It is not yet recognized as a federal holiday.
Still, many Jewish organizations in recent years have begun to celebrate Juneteenth.
In 2018, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JREFJ) organized a Juneteenth seder, with around 200 people participating. (Here is JREFJ’s Juneteenth Haggadah from 2018 if you’d like to download it.) As part of the seder, there was a special seder plate, as the Times of Israel reported: “the z’roa took the form of beets, a vegetarian substitute for the Passover shank bone. Okra, the green vegetable brought over from West Africa to the American South, served as the karpas, or greens. Black eyed peas, which represents the new year in American Southern tradition, was beitzah, the egg. Hot red pepper induced maror’s bitter tears of slavery. The baked sweet potato was charoset for its hardiness, and there wasn’t matzah but cornbread: the poor bread that Southern slaves were able to make.”
“Freedom and liberation is a part of my story as a Black person, as a Jewish person, as a Black Jewish person,” Black Jewish activist Koach Frazier explained. “When we hear those stories, we envision what it is like to be free, what it smells like, what it feels like. It is a recreation of Passover. Just like on Passover, we are doing it today so that we can live in that liberation — rather than living in oppression.”
This year, in light of the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation, celebrating Juneteenth is more important than ever. As such, several Jewish organizations are hosting events. Here’s a list of Jewish Juneteenth events you can attend (virtually) this year. If you know of one we missed, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juneteenth Kabbalat Shabbat (Be’chol Lashon)
“Join Rabbis Sandra Lawson and Isaama Goldstein-Stoll for a special Kabbalat Shabbat service on Zoom to mark Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 when Union forces freed the slaves in Texas. Registration is free but required.”
Details: June 19, 2020, 5:00 p.m. EDT. Register here.
Kol Or’s 3rd Annual Juneteenth Havdalah (Jewish Council of Urban Affairs)
“Join Kol Or, JCUA’s Jews of Color Caucus, for our third annual Juneteenth Havdalah as we celebrate freedom. Be sure to grab your red soda as we enjoy some learning and fun! This event is family-friendly and is open to all. We will complete the evening with Havdalah (note: Havdalah will take place earlier than the official time as Shabbat ends late that night).
“Come join us as we celebrate and honor FREEDOM! Juneteenth is the annual commemoration of the emancipation of Africans and African-Americans from slavery. It was first celebrated on June 19th, 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally made its way to Galveston, Texas. Since then, Juneteenth has become a yearly tradition in many Black communities across the United States.”
Details: June 20, 2020 at 7:00 — 8:3o p.m. CDT. Register here.
Juneteenth 2020 with Michael W. Twitty (Melibee Global)
“On June 19th, 1865, the last enslaved people held in bondage in Texas were emancipated. From that day on a yearly celebration of emancipation evolved to remind us that food goes hand in hand with celebration and liberation. Join Michael W. Twitty for a stirring conversation and dialogue on the power of African American foodways to transmit wisdom and communicate techniques for survival and emotional well being. Challenged by COVID-19 and the ongoing search for racial equity, Juneteenth comes just in time to give us nourishment and hope. We will go over the Juneteenth tradition and explore the ways food has been used and can be used to help us grow beyond our present challenges.”
Details: June 19, 2020 at 2 p.m. EDT. Registration seems to be closed, we will update if that changes.
Confronting Racism in Faith (UJA Federation New York)
“We are experiencing a moment of reckoning on race across the country. FPWA, along with our co-hosts UJA-Federation of New York and Catholic Charities invites you to take part in an honest conversation with our interfaith and multiracial partners. What is the historical relationship between religion and racism? How can people of faith respond to the current moment? What role can and should faith play?”
Details: June 19, 2020 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. Register here.
Kaddish for Black Lives (Jewish Multiracial Network)
“This Friday night, Shabbat coincides with Juneteenth, the commemoration of the official ending of mass enslavement of African Americans. In observance of this important day, and in remembrance of the countless African Americans who have been victimized and killed by ongoing racism, we are lifting up the suggestion of Black Jewish journalist Robin Washington and we are asking our friends and allies in the Jewish community — Jews of Color and white Jews, Sephardic and Mizrachi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, in private or on Zoom — to recite a Kaddish for Black Lives during this Shabbat.
“Jewish Multiracial Network has created a special ‘Black Lives Kaddish’ to reflect on this moment. Depending on your practice, you may choose to recite it along with the traditional Kaddish or, after candlelighting, join us in reciting Psalm 31 (traditionally said to ward off hatred) on this special Juneteenth Shabbat. We ask that you share this ask with your networks, friends and contacts throughout the Jewish Community so we may all come together to give appropriate honor to those we have lost. May their memories be a blessing.”
Details: To be done at your own Shabbat.
#SixNineteen for Black Lives (Bend the Arc: Jewish Action)
“[This] weekend, June 19-21, the Movement for Black Lives is asking us to show up in the streets to continue the fight for Black lives with three demands: defund the police, invest in Black communities, and call for the resignation of Donald Trump. Bend the Arc will be there.
- Learn more at www.sixnineteen.com
- Sign up for M4BL’s text alerts about the weekend: Text DEFEND to 90975.
- Spread the word. You can share this post with more information.“
Details: Actions across the country June 19-21. Learn more at sixnineteen.com.
Chag Juneteenth sameach!!
Update! Since publishing this article we’ve learned about the following event:
Juneteenth Tikkun, hosted by Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation
Header image design by Grace Yagel.