Juneteenth and the Fourth of July

Juneteenth and the Fourth of July

This is an odd week. It’s an odd year. So far, it’s been an odd decade.

There is a lot of painful stuff in this week’s paper. Fear, too. This isn’t a good time to be Jewish. It’s not a good time to be an Israeli. It’s not even a particularly good time to be an American.

But there’s also much joy in this week’s paper too. To look at the photos of kids at camp is to beam. Even if you don’t want to, it’s hard to glower at those pictures. The word resilience might be so chic that it’s overused right now, but it’s important. Resilience is a virtue.

Last Friday night, I went to Temple B’nai Abraham for the Juneteenth service I’d written about a few weeks ago.

It could have been kitschy. It could have been fake. It could have been painfully polite. But it was none of those things. It was joyous, it was powerful, and it was real.

The rabbi (full disclosure, my son-in-law), David Vaisberg, shared the bimah not only with his cantor, Rabbi Jessica Fox, but also with the Reverend Dr. David Jefferson Jr. Dr. Jefferson, who is also both a teacher and a professional performer, sang both beautifully and accessibly. And he brought people with him — not only his father, the Reverend Dr. David Jefferson Sr., who is both a minister and a lawyer, and his sister, but also many people from his father’s church, the Metropolitan Baptist Church of Newark. Other people came because they’d read about the service in our paper.

The service was followed by a dairy dinner created by Chef Cai Campbell.

Many members of the Black community had ties to the Jewish community. Mr. Campbell’s parents, who were caterers, kept a kosher home because of their work. The Jeffersons had lived in Randolph, where many of their friends were Jews. They talked about their connections with evident love.

Members of both communities sat at the same tables at dinner, and they talked. They walked around, met new people, and talked. It wasn’t forced. No one acted as if they felt threatened. Instead, people seemed open, respectful, and genuinely interested in each other.

It was an evening that turned out, much to the surprise of my cynical heart, to be genuinely warm. There were lots of hugs by the end.

Yes, it was one night. Yes, everyone who was there was there by choice, and so we were preselected. Yes, it takes far more than one good dinner.

But for that one night, we were happy together, and life promises more such evenings to come.

Next week will bring the Fourth of July, a day that once we were able to celebrate with open hearts and wide eyes, particularly those of us who, like me, adore fireworks and John Philip Sousa, particularly at the same time. It will be harder this year, because we are so riven, so divided, so angry, and because the coming election is terrifying to so many of us.

But I am taking heart from Juneteenth, just weeks before July Fourth. The calendar has gone from strength to strength here. Maybe we can too.

Happy Fourth of July.


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