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What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating when more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865.

​Although Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slaveholders withheld the status of their freedom from the people they enslaved so they could continue to reap the benefits of their labor. 

​While 47 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, Congress has yet to pass legislation to make it a federal holiday. 

UPDATE: On June 15, the US Senate passed legislation that would establish June 19th as "Juneteenth National Independence Day"!

The fight for racial justice is an ongoing struggle. While we encourage you to use Juneteenth as a day of service, remember that efforts must be continuous in order for us to achieve the change that's needed. Racial injustice isn't just an issue for Black and African American people, it's a human rights issue that requires everyone to listen, learn, and help prevent.

Cleveland Hillel invites you to check out the links below to see more information about how you can observe, commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth 

1. Educate yourself, your children, and other people in your life by attending events (in-person or online) and read books and articles, subscribe to podcasts, etc.

2. Use your voice and your platform to raise awareness 

3. Donate to local grassroots organizations that are advocating for racial justice


4. Participate in a local Juneteenth celebration


5. Sign petitions that are relevant to racial injustice


6. Support Black owned businesses: 

  • Restaurants

  • Clothing sites/designers

  • Contractors

  • Consultants

  • Authors and artists


Juneteenth Events (Online and/or in-Person):


1. Free online event hosted by Step Afrika

2. Free online event hosted by The Forward featuring Rabbi Sandra Lawson and Tema Smith

3. Free online event hosted by USCJ featuring Black Jews

4. Free online event hosted by Repair the World

5. Juneteenth Kabbalat Shabbat hosted by Be’chol Lashon featuring Rabbi Sandra Lawson

6. Juneteenth Havdalah hosted by Repair the World and Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue

7. Free online event hosted by Honeymoon Israel featuring Michael Twitty

8. Cleveland’s Temple-Tifereth Israel’s Juneteenth Shabbat: 


Juneteenth Observation / Education General links:

1. Explore the resource library curated by the National Museum of African American History and Culture


2. Juneteenth Learning Opportunities:

  • The Leichtag Foundation honors the legacy of Lee and Toni Leichtag through igniting and inspiring vibrant Jewish life, advancing self-sufficiency and stimulating social entrepreneurship in coastal North San Diego County and Jerusalem

3. JFREJ's Juneteenth Seder & Juneteenth Haggadah:

4. Celebrate Juneteenth at Cleveland Public Library

  • Juneteenth (June 19) also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day – is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Juneteenth is a day of reflection, a day of renewal, a pride-filled day. It is a moment in time taken to appreciate the African American experience. It is inclusive of all races, ethnicities, and nationalities – as nothing is more comforting than the hand of a friend.

  • More information on events and readings can be found here:

Readings / Articles:

1. What is Juneteenth to a Black Jew? (editor's Note: This piece was originally published 6/16/2020 and has been updated since)

  • In the United States, the only widely celebrated holiday commemorating Black American rights is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But as the U.S. reckons with its history of systemic racism, particularly in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, many have begun learning about the lesser-known but incredibly important holiday of Juneteenth, which we observe on June 19: the day commemorating the legal freedom of enslaved Black Americans.

  • Read more:


2. Learn more about Juneteenth from this Forward article titled, “Why Juneteenth – Which Marks The End Of Slavery – Should Be A Jewish Holiday.” Read the article here.


1. "Freedom On Juneteenth"

  • Karamu House The country’s oldest African American producing theatre—debuted Freedom on Juneteenth, an original theatrical production and artistic response to the recent murders of Black Americans through music, dance and spoken word, on Juneteenth 2020. 

  • This one-hour production streams on social media, including Facebook and YouTube, and select streaming platforms, including Vimeo, Roku and Fire TV. Immediately following the theatrical program, Freedom on Juneteenth continues with a 30-minute panel discussion with community leaders on the recent developments of the #BlackLivesMatter movement (and the police brutality and murders of African Americans).


2. "High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America"


3. "The Story and Modern Contextualization of Juneteenth"

  • Hear from Professor Laurence Glasco on the history of Juneteenth and its relevance and celebration today.

  • Moderated by Josiah Gilliam.

  • This Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh event is in collaboration with Mission Continues.



Audio / Podcast:

1. “1619”

  • In August of 1619, a ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is time to tell the story.

  • “1619” is a New York Times audio series hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

  • You can find more information about it here  

2. "The History and Meaning of Juneteenth"

  • From the NYT “The Daily” podcast, hosted by Michael Barbaro

  •  “When I think about Juneteenth as Emancipation Day, and I think about this moment, I feel like we still need to be emancipated.”

  • Listen here