From Frozen to Bloom

Snowzilla and the Jewish New Year for Trees

A “rag-tag team”seeks to support Beverly Smith (red hat), mother of Alonzo Smith (1/2/88-11/1/15)

Snowzilla and the Jewish New Year for Trees arrived together this year. This may seem ironic timing –celebrating trees when branches are bare and everything is covered with a thick layer of snow. But the holiday is meant to take place at a point when last year's leaves are long gone and new buds are still weeks away. The challenge is to celebrate future blooms when things look bleakest.

This series on worship east of the river has so far explored Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Yoruba experiences. I have yet to find any visible signs of Jewish group life east of the river, with the exception of cemeteries in Congress Heights. So, for this fifth installment, I adapted a “seder”(a set of steps, usually with food and text) from Jewish tradition and asked for some ideas to launch more thought about east of the river seeds and possibilities for growth.

A Few EOTR “Trees”

Support for Justice and Soul

The Wendt Center for Loss and Healing has offered grief and trauma support for decades. Its newer office at the Big Chair offers individual and family grief counseling as well as group counseling for adults and youth. Shelley Tillman, administrative assistant, says she's available to connect community members to services and help organize candlelight vigils for victims of violence.

Many others in the community aim to support mourners in a range of ways. A varied group stood together outside Marbury Plaza Apartments on December 1, for example, in memory of Alonzo Smith, killed on November 1. Many participants focused on standing with Beverly Smith as she demands justice for her son. Some are helping her pursue legal answers, locally and even through the United Nations. Others stressed the importance of keeping Ms. Smith lifted up through prayer, as she faces her on-going ordeal.

“We're a rag-tag team. But family comes together,”Henry Hansforth said on December 1. “We come to show that we are love, and we are one.”

Healing Trauma

“Too often individuals, children and families east of the river are exposed to an excessive amount of senseless violence,”says Stuart Anderson, community activist and founder of Family and Friends of Incarcerated People. “Families go through a lot of trauma that doesn't get addressed. Churches and other organizations try to respond, but not all are prepared to deal with grief and trauma for the long-term. And they are disconnected efforts.”

Anderson envisions a 24-hour healing and wellness center, ready to address community trauma in a holistic way. He has begun searching out seeds: “I have talked to a number of pastors over course of some time, to see where we are and what is needed,”he reports, adding that a coordinated strategy needs “a practitioner who understands dealing with grief and trauma.... We need training for those who willing to help.”The planning group wants to see their idea bloom at the old Malcolm X School, 1351 Alabama Ave. SE.

Easing Everyday Burdens

“Once the funeral is over, there isn't much help and support,”says Sandra Seegars, Congress Heights resident and long-time Ward 8 advocate. “Even at school, they don't do grief counseling over here.”

“Oftentimes people don't seek help –they don't have time or they don't think counseling is worth it,”she adds. Rather than address trauma itself, she would first tap different roots: Offer additional health services, particularly for seniors and other with mobility issues. Provide more, and better, employment and affordable housing assistance. Make bureaucratic matters easier, for everyone, including those responding to loss. Because eventually, “you just breathe and go about your business.”

Wendt Center, 2041 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., SE, Suite 234. 202-610-0066. wendtcenter.org

Contact Stuart Anderson, swandersondc@yahoo.comor 202-239-9439, for more on the healing/wellness project.

 

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Seeds, Roots, and Fruit: An East of the River Seder

This seder can be pursued individually or in groups. Partaking of real drinks and fruits can aid focus and fellowship, but a “virtual”seder also works.

Begin with two drinks (usually wine/ juice), one light and one dark. At each step, drink half the cup, gradually adding dark liquid to symbolize the earth and its trees awakening; enjoy the associated fruit; and take a few moments to consider “seeds,”already present East of the River, and to imagine them in “full bloom.”

Step 1: Wintery Ground. Sweetness Inside.

This cup is white, like the wintery ground with seeds beneath the surface.. This fruit has a tough exterior and edible inside (banana or orange, e.g.), sweetness within a barrier.

What community “seeds”do you see? Do you have a specific hope for the community which is still a sapling? What barriers do you see? What resources, “sweetness inside,”can help turn hope into reality?

Step 2: Supportive Roots. Sturdy Core.

This cup is just tinged with color, the beginnings of a thaw, roots gathering nourishment. This fruit is edible outside, with an uneaten core or pit (apricot or apple, e.g.), strength at the center with the possibility of connection.

What community roots might be better activated in the year ahead? What source(s) of nourishment would you like to see developed? How are you protecting your own core?

Step 3: Emerging Abundance. Sustained Connection.

This cup is more colorful than white, as underground resources awaken new growth. This fruit is edible throughout (figs or berries, e.g.), symbolizing abundance and sustained connections.

As thaw continues, how can individuals and groups, with their varied root systems, better connect to serve the community together? What resources can you bring –post-freeze –to communal abundance?

4. Full Bloom. Fruit Imagined.

This cup is deeply colored, with just a touch of the frozen white remaining. The final “fruit”is pure imagination.

Envision, regardless of how distant spring may seem, one hope, a flowering you want to see, for the community in the coming year. Imagine buds finding their way through frozen ground; see full blossoming to come. The New Year for Trees reminds us that sap is already rising, preparing the way for hopes to bloom, even when things still look frozen and inhospitable.

 

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Alonzo Smith died November 1, 2015 in the custody of “special police”inside Marbury Plaza, 2300 Good Hope Road, SE. His death was ruled homicide, but questions remain and officers involved have yet to be charged.

Community support for Beverly Smith continues as she demands policy changes as well as justice for her son. A related Town Hall gathering, with the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, was scheduled for January 27 (after press time) at Union Temple Baptist Church in Ward 8.

Find “Justice for Zo”on Facebook or contact Pan-African Community Action:  paca@protonmail.com,  202-787-5229.

“Justice 4 Zo” candlelight vigil outside Marbury Plaza, 2300 Good Hope Road SE, December 1, 2015.
Four fruits and four cups, light to dark, for Jewish New Year for Trees

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