Nobody has ever known an America without racially inspired fear.
Every single one of us has been touched by systems designed with the assumptions—conscious or not—of white supremacy and privilege. To design a different America, one that acknowledges, manages, and overcomes the racism written into our national DNA, is a spiritual project akin to the work of a 12 step group or meditation practice. It requires liturgy, a priesthood, texts, and rituals that sustain a multi-generational project of relearning our national story and recreating our national identity. The magnitude of this task can only be accomplished by a religious approach that sets the work in a context of grace, the security of sacred community, the imperative of revelation, and the vision of a wilderness journey to a promised land.
For generations, Jewish people have turned to Torah to make meaning of our lives. Torah is how we view ourselves, our history, and our world. Our own tradition at Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation (NVHC) has guided us in creating a sacred space to share Torah while interrogating our beliefs about American democracy, and introspection as to how those beliefs have shaped our lives as citizens. Three years ago we created the Rebuilding Democracy Project as a way to apply the habits of Jewish practice, ritual, and tradition, to the formation of a healthy citizenry. We now turn the power of Jewish practice to the ongoing stain of American racism.
What is Juneteenth?
In 1865, fully two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, word of liberation from slavery finally reached Galveston, Texas on June 19th. Some say the news was delayed so that planters could exploit enslaved people until the end of the cotton harvest. This day has become known as Liberation Day or Jubilee Day and is America’s only holiday dedicated to acknowledging the truth of our national history of slavery. In the African American community, this is a day of celebration, community, and gathering.
What is a Tikkun?
On some holidays, after the day begins at sundown, Torah study continues through the night until the morning services. This is a time of anticipation, exploration, and the kind of opening of the mind that happens in the dim light. This helps us accept the enormity of the holiday’s message, such as the powerful moment of revelation at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot.
Why a Juneteenth Tikkun?
This day, this hour demands that we seek a different way to bind us together while recognizing and honoring differences in identity, as well as the collective and individual moral failings that have brought us to this moment. George Floyd’s death and the worldwide response to this seemingly immutable event demands us to draw again from Torah to help find a reckoning of racism’s shame.
The tikkun will open our minds to the complexity and urgency of this moment. Our program will explore the wilderness where we find ourselves right now; how our religious traditions provide wisdom for this moment; the harshness of this journey; and the potential for a pathway to a promised land. Participants will at turns reflect, question, learn, speak, and listen throughout the night. The Jewish tradition of a Tikkun allows for flexibility, choice, and various degrees of stamina, so we each join the journey in our own way. We will close together, with a sounding of the shofar at 6:00am in the synagogue parking lot, as Leviticus 25:9 teaches, “Then you shall sound the horn loud” to proclaim the day of Jubilee.
The program will be facilitated by NVHC members and our clergy, Rabbi Michael G. Holzman, Cantor Susan Caro, and Rabbi Jessica Wainer, as well as our Artist and Scholar-in-Residence Rev. Michelle Nickens of the Washington Plaza Baptist Church. Interfaith partner clergy will join in throughout the evening.