Monday will be the third year that Americans celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday. How do Jews relate to the June 19 commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, long recognized by the Black community?
According to Joshua Maxey, of Washington Hebrew Congregation, many local celebrations are building off of the previous year’s events. The difference is that there are more programs and more Jewish organizations involved.
“This year, there’s been this theme of, how do we as a Jewish community show up for the Black community, but also how do we lift up the voices of Black Jews in our own community,” Maxey said. He said it’s important for Jews to celebrate Juneteenth in light of the rise in antisemitism and racism.
“We really are combating these ideologies that go against our Jewish values,” he explained. “Now is the time for us to stand united as a Jewish community, but also united with other marginalized groups in our society.”
The Den Collective, which fosters Jewish experiences and study in the Washington area, sees participation in the holiday as an extension of what the group stands for.
“It’s important to our community members,” community Rabbi Jenna Stein Turow said, noting that a members have discussed how to be good allies and engage in racial justice. “Healing our world is one of our values and is something we talk about a lot. Because what we do is to gather over Jewish wisdom,” the group will hold a study session on June 19.
Asked how white Jews can celebrate Juneteenth appropriately, Maxey said, with respect.
“There has to be a recognition that there may be folks in our community that hold these holidays and days of remembrance as important,” Maxey said. “Lifting up those people that are celebrating these specific holidays is one way we as an entire community can celebrate appropriately.”
Added Rabbi Michael Safra, of B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, “It’s important that we not think of ourselves as white saviors or that the Jewish community is going to go in and help the Black community,” he said. “It’s not us helping them, it’s us building relationships and working together on issues for common benefit.”
Relationship building is one of the goals behind Mt. Calvary Baptist Church’s invitation to an Adat Reyim Congregation’s music groups to participate in June 18 services.
Larry Kugler, who is a co-director of an Adat Reyim singing group, said that the Junteenth service is one of many collaborations between the two Northern Virginia congregations.
“I hope we will continue to have this incredibly positive relationship between Adat Reyim and Mt. Calvary Baptist Church,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can do nurture that to move forward.”
B’nai Israel will be among the Jewish communities participating in the Scotland Juneteenth heritage festival in Potomac, a celebration of one of Montgomery County’s first Black-owned communities.
According to B’nai Israel member Marla Schulman, co-chair of interfaith and social action pavilion for the festival, in the 1960s, when the Scotland community was at risk of being bought out by land developers, the surrounding faith community came together in the “Save our Scotland Campaign.”
Schulman said similar collaborations are reemerging to help rebuild the church after a 2019 flood. She also stressed the importance of building connections with neighboring faith communities.
“We, societally, and Montgomery County specifically, don’t know our neighbors,” she said. “We need to build relationships across lines of difference so we can be there for each other and we can better understand each other. I’m a big believer that faith communities are a great place to start.” ■