Today is Juneteenth, and while it is not a Jewish holiday, it is a celebration of freedom that deserves recognition in our community. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States, and its origins are directly linked to Texas.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger led thousands of federal troops to Galveston to announce that both the Civil War and slavery had come to an end. In 1980, Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth a holiday. Other states have followed, as the recognition of freedom and equal rights for all citizens is a cornerstone value of the United States.
In recognition of Juneteenth, I spent the day working on a house in the Fifth Ward with a wonderful, multi-faith coalition of leaders from throughout the City of Houston. Our group has been working together for nearly a year as we prepare to do Hurricane relief work in Puerto Rico in October.
Our group is comprised of three Evangelical Christian pastors, two rabbis, a Lutheran pastor, an imam, an Afro-Latina veteran and a Jewish community organizer whose family escaped the Holocaust and migrated through Venezuela to the United States. It’s a dynamic group to say the least, and our work together on a number of houses around town has established a strong bond that we pray will have a lasting impact on the future of our communities.
Our work together in the Fifth Ward of Houston was both intentional and symbolic. We chose the Fifth Ward on this day of freedom to demonstrate that we are committed to the work that still needs to be done in terms of social and economic justice for all. We also recognize that by building bridges of cooperation between faith communities, we can generate waves of goodness in a toxically polarized society.
May this Juneteenth be a celebration for all of us as we remind ourselves of the value and importance of freedom in the world.