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A Date to Remember

Monday will mark a historic occurrence for KI. For the first time, we will close our building in observance of Juneteenth. It commemorates the day on which enslaved peoples in Texas were freed: June 19, 1865. While celebrations of Juneteenth originated in churches in the south, it has grown over the years and, since 2021, has been observed as a federal holiday. Many African American communities use the opportunity to read the Emancipation Proclamation and sing songs and hymns that originated during slavery. Many likewise read the works of prominent African American writers, such as Maya Angelou. It is a festive day, a celebration of freedom.

To close our synagogue doors on this important day is to acknowledge the contributions of, history of and multiple trying episodes endured by African Americans in this country. To close our synagogue doors is to align ourselves with black brothers and sisters who are part of our immediate and extended community. They are our fellow congregants. They are our neighbors and friends. It is more than a gesture. It is a message to those within and beyond the walls of KI that ours is a synagogue that not only will not tolerate racism in any form, but is ready to link arms with ‘every race and nation,’ to quote our prayerbook, as we build a better tomorrow. 

I am personally moved and inspired by the great figures of the Civil Rights movement. They dared to put themselves in harm’s way in the name of a more just America. They stood tall even as a racist and segregated south sought to make them small. Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks are some of the names we know and discuss, but behind them is a litany of mothers and fathers, teachers and preachers, who pushed back against a system predicated on an egregious lack of pity and altogether ruthless intolerance. 

When, last November, I stood with KI teens on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the infamous sight of Bloody Sunday, which saw police beat back would-be marchers, I knew we were on holy ground. Hundreds had gathered in the spring of 1965 to march to the state capital to demand equal voting rights. They were greeted by blows to the head and a horrific racism set on ensuring that they remained a powerless population. The march would take place, even if on a later day, and the force of human will and dedication to greater justice would ultimately prevail. 

As much as ever, we need to make clear to our children and grandchildren today that otherness need not be scary. We have so much to learn from each other and offer each other. We have to embrace others. We have to see the humanity in them. We have to remember that the fate of all humanity is indeed intertwined. We have to remember that we are part of one family.

I pray for the day when MLK’s words ring true, that the day comes soon when all who are mistreated because of who they dare to be are indeed ‘free at last.’