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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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In Dining

The Seder meal is a time for the Jewish people to remember God's liberating power through the story of Moses and the people of Israel being freed from slavery. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

In Dining

The March 28 Soul Food Seder will pay homage to the history of African American cuisine and the journey of the African-American people. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Soul Food Seder seeks to unite communities


We speak of the tyranny of poverty,
and the tyranny of racism.
Of the tyranny of wealth,
and the tyranny of war.
Of the tyranny of ignorance,
and the tyranny of arrogance.
Of the tyranny of sexism,
and the tyranny of deceit.

This recitation is just one of the many used in a Seder program written by Venice Williams, Milwaukeean and director of Alice's Garden, a two-acre community garden on 21st Street and Garfield Avenue whose mission is to nurture families and organizations to restore cultural and family traditions connected to land and food.

Williams and other members of Alice's Garden will take part in the sixth annual Soul Food Seder on Thursday, March 28 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Body & Soul Healing Arts Center, 3617 N. 48th St., one block north of Roosevelt Dr.

This sacred community event, sponsored by Food Responsibility Through Education and Employment (FREE) Milwaukee, a local area strategy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will commemorate both the enslavement and exodus of the Hebrew people from suffering and the journey towards freedom of African-Americans in the United States.

It will feature a traditional Seder ceremony, featuring story, poetry and song culminating in a soul food dinner, featuring traditional African-American soul food dishes prepared by the Feed The People project of All Black Everything, a group committed to the reclamation, liberation, preservation, protection and progression of black culture.

Vegan dishes from Bryant Terry's "Vegan Soul Kitchen" cookbook will also be served.

The idea for the Soul Food Seder was hatched by Williams' colleague, Rev. Steve Jerbi, Pastor of All Peoples Church in Milwaukee. He saw the event as a way to bring Holy Week to life in an even more meaningful way for the African-American community.

The word "seder" actually comes from the Hebrew word for "order, procedure." It is the ceremonial Jewish feast, commemorating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, held on the first night of Passover. The Seder meal is a time for the Jewish people to remember God's liberating power through the story of Moses and the people of Israel being freed from slavery in Egypt.

This story of the Israelites' freedom has not only been a source of hope for the Jewish people, but for African-Americans who faced slavery in this country and for oppressed people everywhere. As a result, an increasing number of Christians are also observing the tradition of the Seder, acknowledging the continuity of a 3,000-year-old community of faith.

"In many ways, the same religion that was used to justify the enslavement of Africans in the Americas, was the very same religion that brought hope to many of those enslaved," Williams explains. "For many slaves, the conversion to Christianity was directly related to the identifying with the enslavement and freeing of the Hebrew people. Might this same God have the power to free me and my people?"

This question led many to look to the Bible as a source for both hope and comfort, and to the traditions of Christianity to form both coping mechanisms and methods for retaliation against slavery.

"Slave preachers might emphasize the need for obedience to the master while whites were present, but among other slaves they reformulated their teachings, emphasizing themes of suffering and redemption," Williams says. "Slaves sang spirituals filled with lyrics about salvation and references to biblical figures like Moses, who led his people to freedom. On occasion, these songs functioned even more explicitly as expressions of resistance, encoding messages about secret gatherings or carrying directions for escape."

The actual Seder meal in most Jewish homes is an elaborate feast, with food, games for the children, and plenty of time for Haggadah, the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. As a result, the Soul Food Seder will engage community members in storytelling, poetry, and song. Both children and adults from the All Peoples Church, Alice's Garden, SeedFolks Youth Ministry and All Black Everything will lead portions of the ceremony.

Following the ceremony, attendees will take part in a soul food dinner. Paying homage to the history of African-American cuisine, the roots of which lie in Africa, but the history and nature of which was transformed by the experiences of its people, the meal will serve as a reminder of the importance of adaptability and community.

Like the evening meal so often taken after long hours working in the fields or at the plantation house, the dinner will serve as a meal for both body and soul. It will pay homage the oral histories, the religious ceremony, and the bonds between family and community.

"This Seder is really about building bridges of understanding and respect amongst those gathered, by remembering the history of struggle of God's people, and the power of God's love," Williams explains. "This is God's promise to all, but it is a promise that is most often reached through toil."

According to Williams, the conflict and work continues in the African American community in Milwaukee.

"I believe we need this meal to remind us of where we have been," she says. " We need to be reminded of the promise more than ever. We need to be reminded that God has brought relief before, and God has the power to do it again."

The Soul Food Seder is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Venice Williams at (414) 687-0122 or venicewb@msn.com.

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