Jewishly Honoring Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, the US Army announced the emancipation of enslaved people to the public in Texas – the last of the Confederate states to be liberated from slavery  

 That day each year became known as Jubilee Day and later as Juneteenth, and became a day of celebration, education, community, and political vision first for the Blacks of Texas and then for Blacks throughout the United States. It has been recognized as a special day of celebration by 47 of the 50 states and by some major corporations. It has slowly become recognized and observed by some whites -- especially this year, in the great wave of multiracial Uprising against American racism. (For a history of the day, see “Juneteenth” in Wikipedia.)

Beginning seral years ago and increasing this year, several waays have energed of  Jewishly underling the celebration of Juneteenth. I will review them here. They include sharing a Seder for Juneteeth; suggesting a Kavvanah (focus) for the Blacks killed by racism in reciting Mourners Kaddish on Juneteenth; and shaping a Kabbalat Shabbbat and Havdalah for the day. Each of these is noted below.

Beginning in 2018, some Jews Of Color have shaped a Seder for the day, drawing on the structure of the Passover Seder and using foods, songs, poetry, symbols, and other elements of Juneteenth celebrations. In 2018, a vigorously progressive Jewish group in New York City, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), observed a Juneteenth Seder and then published its Haggadah at  

https://www.jfrej.org/news/2018/06/jfrejs-juneteenth-seder

As the author of the original Freedom Seder in 1969, the first Haggadah ever to welcome the Black struggle for freedom into the heart of the Passover Seder, I have been especially moved by this introduction of the form of the Seder into a Black holyday of freedom.   And I have been warmed and excited by the notion that Blacks who are not Jewish and whites who are or who are not Jewish might find it a welcome way of affirming and working for the end of American racism. At the same time, I encourage caution in its use – not easily “appropriating” the symbols and practices of Black America.

So I decided to share one sliver of the Juneteenth Haggadah that felt to me especially relevant to the struggle to end racism, and especially both Jewish and universal in its drawing on Torah and on the post-history of the Holocaust to urge a serious discussion of “reparations”  for slavery.  Here it is:

THE SECOND CUP: Behold this cup of wine. Assata taught us: It is our duty to win. We drink to her, to our commitment to winning, and to our ancestors who invested in our winning and building power: Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, Pedro Albizu Campos.

 Raise glass. Say one of these blessings: P’ri hagafen, ito nishteh, “l’chayim!” The fruit of the vine, with it let us drink “to life!”

 Bruchah at Yah, Shekhina, eloheinu malkat ha’olam bora p’ri hagafen. Blessed are you, Shekhinah, Queen of the universe, creator of the frui of the vine.

Baruch atah Yahhh (Adomai)  Eloheinu ruach (melekh) ha’olam borei p’ri hagafen. Blessed are You God, Interbreathing Spirit (Sovereign) of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.בְּרוכָּה אַתְּ יָהּ שְׁכִנָה אֱלֹתֵינוּ מַלְכַּת הָעוֹלָם בוֹּראַ פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.בָּרוךְּ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ רוּחַ )מֶלֶךְ( הָעוֹלָם בוֹּרֵא פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.

Love & Support: We must love and support each other, and for that love and support to have any meaning, it must be material as well as spiritual.

 “The Torah says: And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock ... And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt...”

 Black liberation is something that has been compromised again and again, through actions monstrous and tiny — the incompre-hensible violations we promise to never forget, and the endless diminutions we all decide to ignore.

 White supremacy is centered in Christianity, but Jews with white skin privilege have been enacting it and actively benefiting from it for centuries. In the recent history of the United States, white Jews benefited from the G.I. Bill; moved to, and profited from, racially segregated housing; accepted and enabled massive disparities in education; and received loans, financial aid, salaries, and benefits denied to Black people.

 White folx: even if you personally find the idea of white supremacy repulsive, even if you are afraid of antisemitic neo-Nazis and white nationalists — you still benefit from the culture of white supremacy we all live in.

And so tonight we are asking you to think about what it means to commit to reparation — to take a small but challenging step toward accountability and disinvestment from white privilege — a step that also leads toward a bolder, more moral, more vibrant future for Jews and for all people.

Rabbi Sharon Brous writes: “Most American Jews came to this country years after the abolition of slavery, but we have thrived under a national economic system that was built on stolen land and stolen labor, a foundational wrong that has yet to be rectified. As survivors of generational trauma and beneficiaries of reparations [from Germany, to Israel] granted after the Holocaust, Jews have a special obligation to help advance this conversation.”

In addition, Eric Greene, a member of the board of the Jewish Multiracial Network, has suggested preceding a recitation of the Mourners Kaddish with this kavvanah (‘focus’):


Friends:

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

We are providing the text of Jewish Multiracial Network’s “Black Lives Kaddish” below. 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 recited as a plea for protection from those who would do us harm) 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.                                                   

                    KADDISH KAVANNAH FOR BLACK LIVES

 Creator of life, source of compassion. Your breath remains the source of our spirit, even as too many of us cry out that we cannot breathe. Lovingly created in your image, the color of our bodies has imperiled our lives. 

 Black lives are commodified yet devalued, imitated but feared, exhibited but not seen.  

 Black lives have been pursued by hatred, abandoned by indifference and betrayed by complacency.  

 Black lives have been lost to the violence of the vigilante, the cruelty of the marketplace and the silence of the comfortable. 

 We understand that Black lives are sacred, inherently valuable, and irreplaceable. 

We know that to oppress the body of the human, is to break the heart of the divine.

We yearn for the day when the bent will stand straight.

We pray that the hearts of our country will soften to the pain endured for centuries. 

We will do the work to bind up the wounds, to heal the shattered hearts, to break the yoke of oppression.

 As the beauty of the heavens is revealed to us each day, may each day reveal to us the beauty of our common humanity. Amen.

I suggest that we add these readings to our Shabbat observance, either or both on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening, June 19) or Shabbat morning, fitting in with our attention to the nationwide gathering of the Poor People’s Campaign at 10 am and 6 pm Saturday  and 6 pm Sunday at June2020.org

Bechol Lashon is sponsoring an early Juneteenth Kabbalat Shabbat with Rabbis Sandra Lawson and Isaama Goldstein-Stoll  at --
 
 
And the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) of Chicago and the Kol Or Caucus for Jews of Color are excited to invite you to the 3rd Annual Juneteenth Havdalah on June 20 at 7:00 pm, where we’ll come together as a community to commemorate the emancipation of Africans and African-Americans from slavery.  Please RSVP by clicking here.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!-- Arthur

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