The applause that welcomed Houston Symphony associate conductor Robert Franz hadn't yet quieted down when he signaled the percussion section and jubilant trumpets in a masterful composition that heralds the nobility of the human spirit. Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man set the tone for an emotionally charged evening at Jones Hall that celebrated the centennial of the Anti-Defamation League Southwest Region.
"Houston in Concert Against Hate" on Thursday will be remembered for years to come as a sold-out gala musicale that focused on the extraordinary accomplishments of everyday Houstonians who became heroes simply by, as emcee Emmy Award-winning actor Alfre Woodard put it, doing just what they had to do to uphold justice and tolerance in the face of extreme adversity.
"Houston in Concert Against Hate" focused on the extraordinary accomplishments of everyday Houstonians who became heroes simply by, doing just what they had to do to uphold justice and tolerance in the face of extreme adversity.
Consider the plight of Holocaust survivor Bill Morgan, who escaped a Polish ghetto and was forced to leave his family behind and to assume a false identity. When he arrived in Houston, he made it his life's mission to educate about the dangers of apathy and complacency. Celina Fein also hid her provenance to persevere World War II in Warsaw. Today, she's a powerful speaker who works with the Holocaust Museum Houston to ensure tragedies of genocide never happen again.
When Walter Kase arrived at a concentration camp as a child, he was told to go left, his mother, right. He wondered if he had been a good son. He never had the opportunity to express how he felt about her. When he talks about his life, he always ends with, "tell the people you care about that you love them."
Upon returning to Auschwitz as a free woman, Naomi Warren shouted from the rooftops, "I am alive. I won the war." Warren established the Warren Fellowship for Future Teachers at the Holocaust Museum Houston, a program that supports educators in addressing this topic.
For their fight against anti-semitism, Morgan was honored by his granddaughter Kimberly Cohen, Fein by her granddaughter Mindy Fein, Warren by her great granddaughters Talia Kalmans and Lindsey Spector and Kase by his granddaughter Kaitlyn Massin.
Musical selections that included Copland's Lincoln Portrait, Bernstein's Overture to West Side Story, John Williams' Theme from Schindler's List and Shostakovich's Festive Overture were intermixed with standing ovations that saluted the achievements of Rabbi Samuel E. Karff, Rev. William A. Lawson and Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, who, as a trio, created a coalition that promoted civil rights for all.
For challenging hate and bigotry, the family of the late James Byrd Jr. — including Jamie Byrd, Ross Burd and Renee Mullins — were recognized alongside state Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson.
In a stirring collaboration between Bernard Freeman, better known as rapper Bun B, and the Houston Symphony that had audiences clapping along and cheering in excitement, the premiere of "Where is the Love" introduced honorees Thomas Freeman, Michael Feinberg, Esther Campos and Carol Shattuck, who were praised for encouraging inclusivity in education.
After granting the ADL Southwest Region Centennial Award to attorney Marvin D. Nathan, presented by ADL national chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher and Nathan's grandson Alec Gibson, and closing remarks from regional director Martin Cominsky, a moving rendition of "Imagine" sung with the Lamar High School Choir ushered guests to a reception.
You can say the impressive list of valiant warriors of morality are dreamers who believe the world should — that the world will — live as one.
Sharing in the special moment that raised more than $1 million were ADL executive director Dena Marks, Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein, Pam Autio, Susan Shaw, Eileen Westerman, Rochelle and Alan Jacobson, Maggie Solomon, Mark Finkelstein, Dee Dee Dochen, Arlene Nathan, Jonathan Howard, Yvonne Cormier, Ellie and Jack Sweeney, Regina Rogers and Stephanie and John Ross.