It’s the only long-standing commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S.
I’ve always been struck by the near firewall between races in our understanding of our country’s history. If you’re one of the many people
who don’t know much about Juneteenth, it has it’s own website where you can learn more. It has been celebrated for over 150 years by African-American communities throughout the U.S.
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
This quote could have been written to celebrate Juneteenth – or current challenges to racism. Rather, it’s from Emma Lazarus, a late 19th century American Jewish poet most famously known for writing the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
It’s also the words I have repeated every spring since I can remember during my family’s observance of Passover.
Passover commemorates the Jewish people’s release from slavery in Egypt sometime around 1300 B.C. Our continuing observation of this event reminds us of that history. The Passover Seder, a ritual meal and re-telling of the Passover story, is meant to remind us from where our people came – and to never forget the pain and suffering of slavery.
The Passover ritual includes eating horseradish to taste the bitterness of slavery – on matzah (unleavened bread) to remind us of the haste with which my ancestors had to flee Egypt, with no time to let their bread dough rise, lest the pharaoh changed his mind about letting his slaves go free. We then are charged to eat a relish made with apples and wine, to remind us of the sweetness of freedom. The words in most Passover Haggadahs, the booklet available in many different versions that guide us through the Seder, talk about remembering as if it were we ourselves who were personally enslaved.
In my family, our Passover Seder always included provocative discussion about current social justice issues. And an imperative to intervene.
I’ve often thought that here in the U.S. we need a national holiday to recognize the official end of slavery. Something like Passover, an imperative of vigilance, to never forget, to address current injustices.
We have Juneteenth. Wouldn’t it be amazing to make this an official national holiday? While this may seem a long way off, it’s not unimaginable. And in the meanwhile, we can highlight and celebrate Juneteenth on our own, in our own communities.
What can you do?
Order a yard sign commemorating Juneteenth.
Share this official Juneteenth Poem:
From Africa’s heart, we rose
Already a people, our faces ebon, our bodies lean,
Skills of art, life, beauty and family
Crushed by forces we knew nothing of, we rose
Survive we must, we did
We rose to be you, we rose to be me,
Above everything expected, we rose
To become the knowledge we never knew,
Dream, we did
Act we must.