Originally published on JewishBoston.com.
June 19th is celebrated across the United States and around the world as Juneteenth, the anniversary of African-American emancipation in this country. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in September and went into effect in January, many slaveholders in the south simply ignored it. The date of Juneteenth commemorates the June 18th and 19th taking of the state of Texas by the Union army under General Gordon Granger, who publicly announced the end of slavery, inspiring public celebrations among the newly freed slaves. Three years ago, Massachusetts became the 25th state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday; 11 more have since followed suit.
I had never really contemplated Juneteenth from a Jewish perspective before this year. A few months ago, my friend Ingrid phoned me excitedly from her home in LA. “Juneteenth falls on Shabbat this year,” she told me, “so I’m going to host a Jewnteenth seder!” As someone who is both Jewish and African-American, Ingrid was thrilled to carve some space into the calendar that spoke to both elements of her identity. Modeling her Shabbat dinner after the Passover seder seemed natural, since both Passover and Juneteenth celebrate freedom from slavery.
As she spread the word among her friends, she found that many had never heard of Juneteenth before, never mind Jewnteenth. Ingrid insisted to me that was because Juneteenth celebrations are more common on the east coast, although the Juneteenth World Wide Celebration web site lists a dozen events in California and only two in Massachusetts. My searches on Google and Twitter today have not uncovered any Boston-area Jewnteenth events at all.
So whether you’re part of an organized celebration or not, this weekend is a great opportunity to reflect on the freedoms we share as well as the work still left to do to ensure equal rights for all. And if you’re not already familiar with the racial diversity within the Jewish community, you can check out the work done by such organizations as The Jewish Multiracial Network and Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue).