Tomorrow, Shabbat marks the first time that Juneteenth will be recognized as a federal holiday. This holiday celebrates the emancipation of those who endured slavery in the United States, a horrendous chapter in our history. While President Lincoln emancipated slaves in 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation, not all slaves were freed by virtue of the proclamation. It wasn’t until two years after the Emancipation Proclamation that all slaves were freed. Juneteenth’s commemoration is on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865 announcement, in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas.
We as Jews have our own ancient history with slavery and as people who have lived through every form of discrimination from time immemorial, we understand, better than anyone, the need for such commemorations, days that are both rooted in reflection and act as teaching moments. This is also a day to recognize the importance of freedom. Living in a society where we are free to avail ourselves of the unique and inalienable rights that we are afforded as citizens, should never be lost on the Jewish community.
In many places in the world today, and throughout our history, we were not allowed the same freedom as other citizens, and we can never take this for granted. One of the most important rights in our country is the right to vote.
Recently, in remarks he will share this Shabbat, Hillel Deutsch, President at Congregation Beth Sholom reminded me:
“...There is a terrifying secret about Juneteenth. It almost didn't happen. Slavery was almost allowed to endure. Not because of bullets. Because of ballots.
In the election of 1864, Abraham Lincoln ran for re-election on the platform of continuing the war and ending slavery. The opposing party had a platform of ending the war and allowing the South to secede and continue to enslave people. While Lincoln ultimately won, for much of the campaign the result was very much in doubt and many, including Lincoln himself, believed he would lose. If those opposed to slavery and oppression had not voted, the sacrifices on the field of battle would have been meaningless and the evils of slavery would have continued.
Juneteenth is (among many other things) a powerful reminder of the importance of voting."
We have an obligation as Jews and as citizens to make sure our voices are heard. The primary elections, happening right now, with the final date to vote on June 22, often determine election outcomes. In a society becoming more polarized, we must learn about the candidates, understand what they represent and vote with our values, hearts and conscience. We can never assume that the people elected to represent us understand the needs of our Jewish community. We need to do our research.
These sites have search buttons where you can type in candidate names and find information. Also, simply googling and searching for information about candidates can be helpful. I encourage you to talk to friends and neighbors about the candidates. I know, I was always taught not to talk politics with friends, but we are living in troubling times. Talking is good.
And, we should not make assumptions about any party. When Bari Weiss spoke to our community, in April, she shared her concerns, our concerns, about rising antisemitism on the right and the left. No party is free from the scourge of antisemitism. From white supremacy to anti-Israel rhetoric, antisemitism is well represented in our candidates. Our job as Jewish citizens is to make sure we know about it and exercise our right to vote. The people in our government work for us. We must send a clear message that we will not support candidates who do not represent us. Let’s ensure our voices are heard. Go to the polls. Vote.