Like any party, it seemed no one wanted to be the first one to arrive. But when they did come, the town workers and volunteers who have spent hours dealing with the aftermath of 12/14 came in droves.
The workers and volunteers were guests of the Greater Newtown-Danbury Chapter and Stamford Chapter of Hadassah, at a high tea given in their honor. Beginning at 12:30 pm, the Council Chambers at Newtown Municipal Center on Primrose Street was transformed into a buffet dining hall, where sandwiches, fruit, cookies, bars, cakes, and other treats were piled high on three 12-foot-long tables, ready for the 1:30 to 3:30 pm special event.
The feast was greeted with oohs and ahhs, as one after another the guests filed past the food-laden tables, heaping high Valentine’s Day-themed plates. Guests were also presented with bouquets, courtesy of Whole Foods distribution center in Cheshire.
The Stamford Chapter of Hadassah regularly hosts hospital workers in Stamford, and had contacted the local Hadassah chapter to ask how they could assist in Newtown, said Newtown-Danbury Chapter member Sybil Blau. The high tea seemed an appropriate way to thank the many people who have given so generously of time and effort, she said. All of the food was prepared or provided by members of the Stamford Hadassah Chapter, Ms Blau said, with assistance from the Newtown-Danbury Chapter.
In addition to fêting the workers, the Wednesday afternoon luncheon served as a time for Miriam Aron, representing the National Hadassah and co-chairman of the Jewish National Fund, to present First Selectman Pat Llodra with certificates representative of a grove of trees that will be established in Israel to honor those who lost their lives 12/14 in Sandy Hook. Fundraising for the trees has been on a national level.
Hadassah launched a campaign in January to plant trees in the Be’er Sheva River Park in Israel, and to date has collected donations to plant more than 4,700 trees. Hadassah National President Marcie Natan planted the first tree, a mulberry, during a trip to Israel in December, according to a press release dated January 23.
Teaneck, N.J., where Ms Aron lives, is very much like Newtown, she said in opening remarks at the tea on Wednesday. “In good times and in sorrowful times, the people of Teaneck are there for each other,” she said.
Less than 24 hours of hearing about the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14, said Ms Aron, leaders of Hadassah were e-mailing each other to figure out the best way to reach out to the Newtown community. “We care, and we share your pain,” she said.
Known as the gateway to the south in Israel, Be’er Sheva was “not a pretty community,” Ms Aron said, until Hadassah joined in efforts to turn the arid land into a beautiful park. When Hadassah heard that Noah Pozner’s mother wanted trees planted in memory of her son, who died 12/14, the organization realized this was the perfect way to get Hadassah involved.
“We wanted 500 trees,” Ms Aron said. Donations to date, however, will allow at least 4,700 trees to be planted at Be’er Sheva. A special area will have signage designating that the trees are in memory of the victims of 12/14, she said.
While the planting of the grove of trees will not eliminate the pain and suffering of Newtown, Ms Aron said, the hope of Hadassah is for Newtown to know that “we have taken you into our hearts.” The forest, she said, would be an everlasting tribute to the children and adults who died at Sandy Hook School.
An obviously fatigued Mrs Llodra, who only moments before had arrived in Newtown from attending the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., the night before, graciously accepted from Ms Aron a gift of two framed certificates denoting the planting of the trees at Be’er Sheva, as well as 26 individual certificates intended for the families of the victims of 12/14.
“How remarkable,” the first selectman commented, thanking the Hadassah Chapters for the high tea, and for delivering the news of the memorial trees planted in the Hadassah Forest of Be’er Sheva.
She offered brief remarks, her passions still focused on the events of the previous night.
“I’m very proud to know that in the gallery last night, there were probably 15 people from Newtown,” said Mrs Llodra, and stressed the importance of those willing to put a face on the tragedy of 12/14, in order to communicate the need for change. What that change will look like, she is not sure, Mrs Llodra said, but expressed faith in the courage of state and national legislators to move forward on changes needed to create a safer world.
“We lost 20 children and six adults, who did nothing other than go to school that day,” she told the members of Hadassah and guests gathered there. “We can’t be deterred by a negative cloud,” she said, and vowed to continue to “fight for what I know is best.
“I am tired, exhausted from galvanizing the world’s attention,” she said, “but I do believe in the goodness of man. Be dynamic,” Mrs Llodra implored those present, “and leave the world a better place.”
Hadassah The Women’s Zionist Organization of America teaches women to be leaders and advocates for issues that matter to Israel and to American families, according to literature provided by the Stamford Chapter of Hadassah. It is committed to enhancing the quality of American and Jewish life through education and Zionist programs, connects youth with Israeli heritage, empowers women, fundraises to support important issues, and provides professional networking opportunities, among many other activities.
Last month, Hadassah joined with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in supporting White House recommendations “for Congressional and executive action to curb gun violence,” as well as issuing a statement deploring the “scourge of shootings,” and continued support of strict legislative gun control initiative beyond current laws, to prevent gun violence. The statement urges Congress and state legislatures to enact stronger gun control legislation, including a ban on assault weapons, and enforcement of laws.
“Thank you,” Mrs Llodra told Hadassah members, in closing. “We are so delighted and overwhelmed by the bounty.”