Sukkoth became a time for a very special manifestation of ingathering this year, as the grandson of a Nazi soldier hosted Holocaust survivors in his personal Sukkah in the Galilee.
More than 200 Holocaust survivors made the trip to Poriya Illit near Tiberias from towns across Israel to celebrate Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, in a handmade sukkah at the home of Alexander Dietz. Under a canopy of palm leaves, the guests were treated to a feast set to the music of harps, guitarists and singers. Three of the five groups then enjoyed a boat trip on the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) to watch the sun set at the end of a very special day.
“It was a little bit of heaven on earth,” Alexander Dietz, one of the organizers, commented after the event.
Dietz was raised in a secular home with no religious affiliations. Now a devout Christian, Dietz has a strong belief in Jesus but, through his Bible study, he realized that this necessarily connected him to the Jews.
A German Christian, Dietz has been volunteering in Israel for over three years under the auspices of the Helping Hand Coalition. Although he engages in a wide range of volunteer activities much of his focus is on activities that bring joy to Holocaust survivors, as he is the grandson of a soldier who served in the Nazi army. This year, he saw Sukkoth as an opportunity to show his love of Israel and continue on his path of reconciliation.
Explaining his rationale for hosting the event, he cited scripture as a direct influence on himself and his wife, Cecilia. Citing the Prophet Isaiah, Dietz emphasized that it was incumbent upon all Christians to openly express their love for Israel.
Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God. Speak tenderly to Yerushalayim, And declare to her That her term of service is over, That her iniquity is expiated; For she has received at the hand of Hashem Double for all her sins. Isaiah 40:1-2
“We see the Holocaust in this prophecy,” Dietz said. “We want to speak good words to the people. We want to comfort their heart with this day.”
Looking to the Bible to guide his actions, Dietz cited Isaiah again as his personal inspiration.
Bowing before you, shall come The children of those who tormented you; Prostrate at the soles of your feet Shall be all those who reviled you; And you shall be called “City of Hashem, Tzion of the Holy One of Yisrael.” Isaiah 60:14
“We are the descendants of those who oppressed them,” Dietz said. “Now is the time in which prophecy is getting fulfilled, and this is what we see. How do we fulfil it? By coming and serving them, loving them.”
Explicitly linking the Holocaust to scripture, Dietz thirdly cited Isaiah yet again, which declares that the people of Israel will be given a crown “of beauty instead of ashes.”
To provide for the mourners in Tzion— To give them a turban instead of ashes, The festive ointment instead of mourning, A garment of splendor instead of a drooping spirit. They shall be called terebinths of victory, Planted by Hashem for His glory. Isaiah 61:3
“Ashes is the Holocaust, to be totally burned,” Dietz said, adding: “We want to give them beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of a depressed heart. So these were the words of the Tanakh that
captured our attention as we believe in the God of Israel. We feel that HaShem is blessing both of us: taking from us Germans our guilt, and giving them the respect and the love that they deserve. That’s what we always feel in these meetings. We stand here in the gap and we believe that HaShem sees our deeds and maybe has grace and mercy on us.”
There are approximately 150,000 Holocaust survivors currently living in Israel. Dietz feels particularly drawn to helping those of Russian descent, who tend to be among the poorest. Over the summer, volunteers at Helping Hand have been running weekly events for Holocaust survivors, serving them dinner and offering them a boat trip on the Kinneret.
“They [the survivors] know how to survive with little, but we want to give them a day of feast, a day of joy, a day of coming together – of reconciliation. This is where Cecilia and my main work is, because as the German volunteers with Helping Hand we can work on reconciliation and give our nations a new start.”
In May this year, Dietz was among a small group of Christians who raised funds for a 265-pound gold-plated duplicate of the menorah stolen by Titus in 70 CE to be made and returned to Jerusalem, as part of reparations for acts of anti-Semitism by Christians.
“The worst enemies of Israel have the greatest opportunity now to be Israel’s closest friends,” Dietz told Breaking Israel News at the time. “In Christianity, we call it ‘Grace’ but in Hebrew, you call it Chesed. Chesed is why I even exist. Clearly, the only reason Germany still exists in God’s world is because of Chesed.”
“If you are the recipient of such love, you have to return it,” Dietz said. “And the only way to do that toward God is to pass it along to your fellow man.”
NOTE: This article was co-written with Donna Rachel Edmunds.