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From Slavery to Freedom

This weekend, led by the African American community, across the entire country many of us will be joining to celebrate Juneteenth, the commemoration of the emancipation of African American slaves, specifically general order #3 emancipating the slaves of Texas on June 19th 1865. 

President Biden proclaimed June 19th as a Federal holiday last year. After the reckoning on race and justice of 2020 and the George Floyd trial, it offers an opportunity for everyone to measure how far we’ve come from the injustices of the past and how far we have yet to go to ensure injustice does not prevail in the future. We in the Jewish community can and should recognize the imagery of slavery and freedom, of ongoing prejudice, and of persevering in the face of injustice. It all resonates with our own history and our own experiences. 

I wanted to share a personal note. I grew up in Canada, where the baggage of racism and the history of discrimination took different paths than here in the US. I have always been an avid student of history, especially American history. And yet, despite my interest and my studies, there are places that history books didn’t go. 

They didn’t explain the legacy of heirs property & partition laws in many states, which have served to eliminate the possibility of generational wealth through land ownership for millions of Black Americans for well over 100 years. They didn’t speak about redlining, which has made it easy to cut up African American neighborhoods in many cities to build expressways and infrastructure, and made it difficult for people in communities of color to access mortgage financing. And too few media outlets have covered the relatively new phenomenon of food deserts, which makes accessing affordable groceries in too many urban neighborhoods virtually impossible, creating an environment of discrimination in effect if not intent.  

Even as a history buff, I didn’t learn about the 1921 Greenwood OK massacre until I was in my twenties. It simply wasn’t written about, or talked about. And several American born community members I asked didn’t know anything about it at all. The same goes for events in places like Rosewood, FL in 1923 and even Poughkeepsie NY in 1927, where Jews and other minorities were targeted along with the African American community. 

I am not so presumptive as to think I understand the complicated history of race in America. Nor am I so prescriptive as to think I know how to fix the problem. I do know one thing, though. We are the People of the Book. Narrative and knowledge have been, and continue to be our strength, and the way we have worked through our biggest challenges. We are challenged to have compassion for our friends and neighbors; to celebrate their triumphs, share their sorrow in tragedy, and seek for a better future. For me, that always starts with the written word. So, I’m going to continue to educate myself. I hope you’ll join me.

About the Author
Ari Rosenblum is the CEO of the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County. A senior professional with experience at several leading Jewish institutions, Ari has written, lectured and educated on Israel advocacy, anti-Semitism, and Jewish thought for over 20 years. He lives in New York. Views expressed in this blog are his alone.
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