Every Friday night, we are reminded through the Kiddush, “His holy Shabbat as a heritage, in remembrance of the work of Creations; the first of the holy festivals, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.” This commandment has echoed throughout the walls of Jewish homes and synagogues for thousands of years as we raise our voices to bless the wine. We are to acknowledge our past every week, with regard to the collective experience of freedom from slavery. This highlights the significance of that period of Jewish history and emphasizes the importance in Judaism of remembering past trauma and the redemption from it.
While we will be saying Kiddush tonight to remember our people’s slavery and its end, we also have the opportunity today to remember the slavery of African Americans — and its abolition — on the anniversary of Gen. Gordon Granger’s reading of the federal orders in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. This date, known as Juneteenth, commemorates the final announcement that slavery had been abolished throughout the United States, a full two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This is a monumental day for the African American community and all Americans, representing the end of bondage for generations of a people who were treated as no more important than chattel.
We as Jews understand the significance of this form of commemoration through important Jewish traditions, including the holiday of Passover. Honoring the past, trauma and atrocities included, is a way for societies to recognize where they came from and what they have overcome.
Today, as we remember, honor and acknowledge the pain and suffering of the African American community, we are mindful that memory and collective memory are foundational components to people everywhere. Seeing into the past allows us to live in the present and move into the future.