Hosting events at the Shalom House is always an exciting task. Knowing that twenty or more Holocaust survivors will be walking through our front doors to spend three hours with us is a surreal feeling. Anyone who has attended one of HHC’s events knows the indescribable feeling of sitting in the same room with people who had a tragic role in our world’s history. Observing and talking to them is something out of a fantasy book. Their eyes hold so many unspoken truths, and their existence proves that the horrific events that occurred from 1941-1945 really did happen.
This week, on May 22nd, HHC hosted a concert-styled Shalom House with many guests and new volunteers present. Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski hosted the afternoon, while performers from Germany, Israel, Australia, and America, entertained our guests. From the ‘Children of the War’ organization in Netanya, twenty survivors were warmly welcomed upon arrival. Everyone was anxious to get to know one another, and before the bus came to take the group home, friendships were formed, and lives were impacted.
We had a full afternoon with Alyosha Ryabinov opening the concert by sharing about his love of music and the journey he took to come to Israel, before playing a song he wrote after immigrating to the Holy Land. Each note captured the audience’s attention, every head was turned toward the sweet melodies.
Alexander Dietze, a Nazi descendant, took center stage to sing a Hebrew song called Av Harahamim, after apologizing for Germany’s treatment of the survivors during World War II. His speech was touching, causing tears to trickle down cheeks of a few of the survivors. You could feel the forgiveness being given to Alexander and Germany, though the pain was shown in their eyes. Alexander stated that Germany deserved to be wiped out after the events of the War, but because they haven’t it’s Germany’s responsibility to stand with Israel and help those who suffered under Hitler’s regime.
The mood in the house changed when Alyosha took his place behind the piano and played a beautiful rhapsody of Hava Nagila. As someone who has heard the song many times, this was the first time the song has felt like a journey out of bondage into freedom, an out of Egypt experience. By the end, everyone was clapping along and afternoon turned into a party. Singing along with the words to popular Hebrew songs, Alexander played the djembe while his wife and daughter danced with survivors in the center of the room. Alyosha friends — Claudia Gaz, Tova Zandstein, Ruth B. Josem — also joined in, singing along to the songs. The atmosphere was light, with love pouring out of the survivor’s souls.
Just before a light lunch was served, Bozena and Andre surprised Klaus Dewald, from GAiN Germany, with a candle-lit birthday cake. Thanking everyone for their kindness, Klaus shared about his work with GAiN and how his world changed after going on his first trip with the organization.
Raised in Germany, Klaus had never felt the guilt of what his country did during the War. It wasn’t until he had a conversation with a group of Russian women who had lost their children to during those dark days that the light bulb went off and he understood the pain his people had inflicted. Going home to investigate more about what his fellow Germans thought about their experiences during WWII, Klaus learned that more than 70% of the people he spoke to regretted the actions they had made in the name of their country. Vowing not to live his life wishing for a second chance, Klaus has made it his mission to help those in need and reach out to Holocaust survivors.
Gratitude is the only word that can be used to describe the emotion that filled the room after Klaus’ short speech. Everyone was grateful to him for his kind words and the work he is doing to support the survivors and help those in need. Again, tears were shed.
There is nothing better than eating scrumptious food while in great company. Everyone mingled as they ate, keeping the party going. Survivors relayed their appreciation for being invited to the Shalom House, and volunteers got the chance to talk and learn about the survivor’s journey to the Promised Land.
As the great William Shakespeare says, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” As usual, nobody wanted to leave, the afternoon had flown by. After taking one last picture as a group, handing out small cards to each survivor, and gifting Andre and Bozena with a delicious box of dates, the survivors got back onto their bus and returned home.
Today was a celebration of life. Holocaust survivors have been through enough darkness and tragedy, so it is our goal, with the help of our team and volunteers, to bring light back into the lives of each survivor who walks through our doors. At each Shalom House event, there are deep and meaningful moments, but at the end of the day, a party takes place to celebrate the lives of those present.
HHC would like to send a warm thank you to everyone who was involved in this week’s Shalom House: To our new volunteers, Judith and Yakov Damminga, we say welcome! To the team from GAiN Germany — Klaus & Claudia Dewald, Harry Weiss, and Almut Marburger — thank you so much for joining us and for the incredible pictures you took to commemorate this wonderful afternoon (pictures coming soon). And thanks to those who contributed; Alexander Dietze and his family, Alyosha Ryabinov, Claudia Gaz, Tova Zandstein, Ruth B. Josem, Jola Yolanda and Lilia.
Exclusive GAiN Interview with Almut Marburger, the head of their Israel Department
What is GAiN?
GAiN – Global Aid Network is a humanitarian organization that has more than seventy active projects around the world with branches in eleven different countries – England, Germany, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, to name a few.
Tell us about your journey that led you to work with GAiN Germany?
I had a heart for Israel and wished to do something for the country but couldn’t leave where I was in Germany as I had three children still in school. When I learned about GAiN, I knew I wanted to become a part of their work with Holocaust survivors in Israel. Five years later, I’m the head of GAiN’s Israel department.
For those interested in going on one of GAiN‘s trips, what would they need to do?
They would have to raise their own money. After having an interview with one of the supervisors, GAiN requires that you pay for your trip as it is a volunteer program.
Can you describe the work GAiN does when they come to Israel, and how often do they come?
GAiN mostly works with Holocaust survivors when they come to Israel. They go to those who cannot come to the Shalom Houses at HHC to spend quality time with them. Human touch and contact are essential, so GAiN has made it their mission to volunteer their time with those who are alone. GAiN also brings containers into the country with humanitarian aid to help survivors and others who are in need. At least once or twice a year, we come with groups to spread our love and support.
This was your second Shalom House, Almut; what was your reaction to the events of today?
It had a lot of style and was deep and touching. The best part was when Alyosha played the Hava Nagilla rhapsody. It began dark and broken, but by the end, there was redemption and freedom. The room felt like a party.
You’ve worked with GAiN for five years now, what has been the most impactful part about working with them?
The thing that has made the biggest impression has been their motto, “If you save one life, you save the whole world.” It’s all about focusing on a single person rather than a large group. GAiN focuses on individuals, they don’t need to save the whole world only one person.
I’d always wanted to save the world, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it, yet when I started working with GAiN, I was shown that I can save the world by just being with one person. The person in front of you is the most crucial person in your life at that moment.
For more than ten years GAiN has been partnering with Helping Hand Coalition in their work to help Holocaust survivors, what has been your experience working with HHC?
I love working with Helping Hand Coalition. They are very reliable and good friends. I always feel welcome, and whenever I need their help, no matter how busy they are, they always stop to hear what I have to ask.
GAiN supports HHC in our mission to reach out to Holocaust survivors living in Israel. They are donors, and we are honored to work alongside them. Their work is life-changing, impacting the lives of hundreds wherever they go.
To learn more about the work GAiN is doing, go to their website at gain-germany.org/projektlaender/israel/.
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