I have never paid attention to Juneteenth. It was someone else’s holiday. And yet this year I am acutely aware, both of the date and my apathy. And I am sorry.
Juneteenth commemorates the announcement in Texas on June 19, 1865, of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. and that state. If you know your history, you know that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on September 22, 1862, to take effect January 1, 1863. But it took over two years for the news to reach Texas.
In contrast, I always remember Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year fell in April. This despite the fact that my own family emigrated to America well before the Holocaust, and I do not know of any relatives who perished, or who suffered the horrors in Europe.
While American slavery and the Holocaust were quite different, the perpetrators shared this terrible practice: They tore children from the arms of their parents.
This is something that in our wildest nightmares we could not imagine happening here, today. And yet it is. You don’t have to live on the border to see and hear it; the news media and advocate groups have done an excellent job of ensuring that we hear the voices of toddlers crying for their mothers, see children warehoused in metal cages, read of a nursing baby being taken from its mother.
It is unthinkable, and it is true.
Like slavery and the Holocaust, this does not touch me personally, or anyone with whom I am acquainted.
And yet. It touches us all. And we are all responsible. We each must speak out and act when injustices happen to anyone. Anyone at all.
The outrage that has swept our nation finally influenced the president, who today signed an executive order to end the practice of separating families. While signing, he had the gall to say, “I think the word compassion comes to mind.”
I am appalled.
And I am proud of everyone who spoke out, donated, called their representatives, signed petitions, wrote letters and Facebook posts. But we cannot stop now. We have seen how our voices can indeed change what appear to be intractable politicians, impossible situations. We can make a difference and we need to continue to speak out, to fight for justice.
If you are reading this on Facebook, you already know how to get involved. There are many, many reputable organizations raising money, marches being planned, politicians to call, letters to write. We cannot give up. We cannot stop.
As for me, in addition to the actions I am taking and plan to take, I have vowed to next year observe Juneteenth, because I too am responsible for remembering the horrors of slavery, as well as the Holocaust.