Emancipation congregation: Slaves’ exodus celebrated with NYC Juneteenth seder
JFREJ’s first Juneteenth Seder is covered by Steven Davidson for the Times of Israel.
Complete with ceremonial food and a unique hagaddah, hundreds gather to fuse two familiar stories of freedom into a brand new ritual organized by the Jews of Color caucus.
Organized by New York City’s Jews For Racial and Economic Justice [JFREJ], the seder utilized the rituals and traditions of Passover to celebrate “Juneteenth,” the liberation of African-American slaves announced on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas.
“We came together not just as black Jews or Jews of color, but with the entire community,” said the charismatic Yehudah Webster, who co-founded JFREJ’s Jews of Color caucus and was the seder’s MC of sorts. “We know that all of our liberation is tied together.”
A haggadah unlike any other
JFREJ’s Jews of Color caucus led approximately 200 people — black, white, Jewish and non-Jewish — in a seder of their own design. The Juneteenth haggadah provided the blessings, rituals and imagery of Passover that all Jews are familiar with, but with the content itself radically reimagined.
The East River of Manhattan served as its backdrop as the seder began as so many have — with the traditional Hebrew prayer to light candles, and the Shehecheyanu blessing, recited to celebrate special occasions.
This seder, however, beyond providing feminine and humanist prayer alternatives, would offer many blessings for those that came before them — stretching back to Africa.
“We memorialize the ending of chattel slavery in the way we remember our liberation from Egypt because ritual is a form of collective, embodied memory,” read black Jewish activist Koach Frazier from the Juneteenth haggadah, which he co-authored. “We embody our experiences as both slaves and people on a journey towards liberation.”