With the subject racial injustice at the forefront of people’s minds, many Americans (including many Jewish people) learned about Juneteenth for the first time this week.
In fact, June 19 is the date of the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
The date is based on when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas in 1865 with news that the war had ended and the slaves there were now free men, women, and children. This was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863 — the Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce it.
Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement, according to juneteenth.com; but the Jewish Multiracial Network created a “Black Lives Kaddish” to reflect on this moment, in memory of the black people victimized by the racism that still persists in this country.
“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,” the organization said on its Facebook page. “Depending on your practice, you may choose to recite it along with the traditional Kaddish or, after candle lighting, join us in reciting Psalm 31 (traditionally said to ward off hatred) on this special Juneteenth Shabbat.”
The text of the prayer is below: