This Saturday marks Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, the day the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned that slavery had been abolished, a full two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and six months before the passage of the 13th Amendment. Indeed, while Juneteenth is largely a day of celebration, embedded in its history is a crucial reminder: freedom is hard won and the fight for liberation is far from over.

It has been 156 years and the holiday is still not federally recognized, despite the efforts of millions. To learn more about this holiday, we encourage you to read Why Juneteenth – Which Marks The End Of Slavery – Should Be A Jewish Holiday from Tema Smith, and to sign the petition to get the holiday recognized by the U.S. government (it’s passed the Senate but needs to go through the House). In the meantime, we celebrate that, as of this year, Chicago and the state of Illinois are on board for recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday.

See below for Jewish celebrations to plug into this coming week and click here for more Jewish resources for the holiday.

  • This Friday night at 6:30 pm, we’re on for Shabbat. Rabbi Deena will be drashing about Juneteenth, and we’ll recite Mourner’s Kaddish for Black Lives.
  • Thursday at 1 pm: This panel, hosted by The Forward with Rabbi Sandra Lawson of Reconstructing Judaism and Tema Smith, will dive into the question of “How American Jews are reflecting on a year of racial reckoning?”
  • Friday at 4 pm: Join Be’chol Lashon for a Kabbalat Shabbat to learn about Juneteenth.
  • Saturday at 7 pm: The Kol Or Jews of Color Caucus of JCUA will commemorate the emancipation of Africans from slavery at this Juneteenth Havdalah.
  • On Sunday at 7 pm: The Black Jewish Liberation Collective is hosting a celebration uniting Jewish people of the African diaspora and their families in observance of Juneteenth. Those who are not Black Jews or Black people are asked not to register for this event.

The Torah begins with the radical assertion that all human beings are created in God’s image: with infinite value, equality and uniqueness. Yet, our reality is far from the Torah’s ideal and we believe Judaism pushes us toward pursuing that vision. “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deut. 16:20) reminds us that we have to proactively right the wrongs of history, and be part of the solution when it comes to the racism that runs so deep in our nation.

As an organization, we have taken steps to work toward racial justice in our community. We rebuilt our mission, our non-negotiables and our community norms to better reflect anti-racist policies and standards. We launched a partnership with Edot Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity Collaborative, an organization affirming Jewish racial and ethnic diversity across communities in the Midwest and supporting the leadership of Jewish People of Color (JOCs) as the drivers for change. Additionally, we established a fund for anti-racist programming and consulting and will offer trainings to our staff and community in the year ahead. And we overhauled our hiring and compensation practices to be explicitly anti-racist and with a commitment to hiring multi-talented, diverse voices to our team.

We know that there is still work to be done and that we are still in a moment of undoing unjust policies and inequitable systems both locally, in our own organizations and communities, and across the world. As our ancestors remind us: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21). If you want to help make our Jewish community a more diverse, equitable, inclusive and anti-racist space, be in touch with us at [email protected].