On Sunday, October 4, people of many diverse backgrounds gathered at King’s Harbor, the Kingwood, Texas location for the Holocaust Garden of Hope, to celebrate Reconciliation Not Hate. We took a stand for Israel and Jewish Life by observing the biblical holiday of Sukkoth, or Feast of Tabernacles. Sukkot (plural of Sukkah, or Tabernacles) were built and decorated (see accompanying pictures), and in the tradition of the holiday we found ways to “dwell” in those booths. One became the stage where music was performed and messages were proclaimed, another covered the registration table and two more were the locations where children and adults participated in the Upstander Stones Project.

The March of Remembrance/March of Life Global Day of Action: “Reconciliation, Not Hate” was conceived by the March of Life organization in Germany and people in 70 cities worldwide gathered as we did throughout the day. March of Life founder Jobst Bittner spoke from the event in Germany:

“We’re experiencing one of the worst global disasters since World War II. The Covid 19 pandemic has so far claimed almost 1 million lives worldwide and every death brings grief and suffering both for family members and friends. Hundreds of thousands of people are out to protest on the streets worldwide. Many of them oppose the Covid 19 restrictions in their countries, representing radically right-wing or left-wing positions. Others believe in conspiracy theories and all too often the protests are linked to outbreaks of hatred and violence. Times of crisis have always brought an onslaught of anti-semitism and hatred of Jews and this pandemic also provides fertile ground for anti-semitic conspiracy myths. As members of the global March of Life movement we want to use this feast as an occasion to bless Jewish life in our cities and countries and to visibly express our friendship with Israel.”

Celebration was the order of the day! We were treated to beautiful, meaningful dances by the Maria White Dancers and Vera Alkhatib. Dozens at a time joined in dancing to inspirational music in Hebrew and English, following leaders in traditional Israeli dance steps. Scarves were utilized to safely distance the dancers, and they were also waived along with beautiful silken flags by the dancers, led by talented singers Sheena Doorn and Susan Peitzman and her daughters Lisa Barker and Keren DeBose. Chloe Sullivan delivered a dramatic reading and Ron and Diane Gatchel brought their puppets to life to explain Sukkoth.

Speakers included:

  • Delivering a proclamation, Houston’s Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin
  • An additional proclamation by Humble’s Mayor Merle Aaron
  • Temple Beth Torah’s Rabbi Dan Gordon, National Rabbinic Adviser for the March of Remembrance Houston
  • Congregation Beth Yeshurun’s senior Rabbi Brian Strauss, former commissioner of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission 
  • Local prayer leader Janice Sturkie
  • Representatives from Aglow International

Speakers Mitch and Rozalie Jerome, Jeff Craig and special guest and child Holocaust survivor Ruth Steinfeld spoke of the Holocaust, the history of the March of Remembrance and the future of the Holocaust Garden of Hope, all interwoven like the ribbons that were later lifted up to fashion a giant 6-pointed Star of David. We learned why we “waive the Lulav” every day of Sukkoth, and then everyone in attendance followed the biblical mandate to do so as a community and sang “Bind Us Together.”

The rocks that were painted for the Upstander Stones Project weren’t just for decoration but will be added to the planned 1.5 million that are being painted by individuals, schools, clubs, and nursing homes in the greater Houston area. Anyone can contact staff at the Holocaust Remembrance Association (HRA18) to pick up one or many sacks of 20 rocks, with paint and markers and a list of 20 names of children who were murdered in the Holocaust and who are being memorialized in this unique way. There will be many spots in the Holocaust Garden of Hope where visitors can view the stones and begin to understand the huge number of innocent lives lost. According to Habakkuk 2:11 (CJB), “the very stones will cry out.” May even the stones resound with cries of “Reconciliation, Not Hate!”

Reconciliation begins with me, reconciliation begins with us as we gather together to send a message heard around the world. We will not stand by idly and allow hatred to divide our communities, local or global. We will join together, celebrating the humanity which makes us great, from the youngest child to our wisest elders. Thank you to all who made the March of Remembrance/March of Life Global Day of Action: “Reconciliation, Not Hate” a day to honor the past and give hope for the future.