Having new groups come to the Shalom House is always exciting. There’s nothing better than watching the survivors experience one of these events and talk to people who genuinely want to get to know them. On June 24th, twenty Holocaust survivors from Hadera joined HHC and our guests for a concert at the Caesarea Villa. Also joining us this afternoon was a tour group, called MAGI, from America led by Jeff and Carol Shelton.
Bozena Gasiorowski opened the afternoon, welcoming the survivors and explaining what the concert would entail, before handing the mic over to Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov. The Ryabinov’s were like rays of sunshine, as they shared about their journey to Israel, you could see their genuine love and compassion towards the survivors.
Before he began to play, Alyosha spoke about being born into a family of musicians in Kiev. With a violinist and composer as a grandfather and a mother who played classical music, Alyosha was surrounded by song from a young age. With no choice but to learn an instrument, Alyosha not only mastered how to play multiple instruments but also writes his own music. Claiming that music gives us a chance to hear God’s voice, Alyosha let the meaning of those words hang in the air as he played his first song.
When explaining music, one must be rather creative. As Alyosha pressed each of the eighty-eight keys on the piano, my mind went to the scene in Pride and Prejudice (the movie version) where Elizabeth and Mr.Darcy meet in the field as the sun rises. As Darcy makes his way towards Elizabeth, the music intensifies, then when they meet the music softens to highlight the monumental moment where Darcy declares his love and Elizabeth finally accepts. I don’t think there is a better way of explaining the feel or essence of Alyosha’s song in any other way.
Tending to stick to his own compositions, Alyosha mixed things up to play a piece of music that touched many lives during the War. Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor Lento con gran espressione saved not only Władysław Szpilman’s life, but also brought some light into the lives of those who were living in complete darkness.
“There’s no time to play other people’s music and write your own.” – Alyosha
As Alyosha played, some of the survivors shut their eyes, maybe to reminisce about the first time they heard the song. Nobody spoke, and everyone but Alyosha seemed to be frozen in time, absorbing the tunes and enjoying the music.
After waking the crowd out of its trance with a duet, sung by Jody and Alyosha in Hebrew, Claudia took her turn behind the piano. For eight minutes, she allowed her fingers to lead, giving us a glimpse into her world and beauty. With no music sheets or practice, Claudia has a real gift of playing what she feels.
The concert ended in rejoicing as Alyosha played Hava Nagilla. Taking a simple song and making it into a complicated rhapsody, Alyosha has transformed one of the most well-known Hebrew songs into a piece that tells the journey of the Jewish people, from shackles to freedom.
With the literal meaning of the song being, let’s rejoice, the room came alive in rejoicing and thanksgiving. Unable to help themselves, everyone’s dancing feet started moving to the famous beat, some becoming so swept away that they joined each other at the front of the room to spin and waltz.
“We are alive because our God is alive. Just like it says in the song, Am Israel Chai, ‘The nation of Israel lives, the people of Israel live, our God lives.’” – Alyosha (with lyrics from Am Israel Chai)
Lunch was served with the help of our American guests and our ever loyal volunteers, Jola and Lilia. It was a touching afternoon that also opened the eyes of our guests, one exclaiming that his favorite part of the event was listening to Jody’s speech at the beginning and seeing how the survivors were thankful and rejoicing even though their childhoods were stolen from them.
Before the bus arrived, a survivor stood to share her story: Born in Moscow, the War began when she was three years old. All women and children in her community were separated from the men and taken to the Far East. Called Moscow-vites and having to trade vodka for food, life was not easy. Anti-Semitism came into the town they were living in the form of injured Russians coming out of battle. When they were allowed to return home, her father was drafted into the Russian army as a de-miner. He died at the age of sixty.
The survivor’s story was emotional, but she was very brave to open up to the group. There are many other stories like hers, and it’s events like the Shalom House that gives the survivors a chance to have their voices heard.
The bus came too soon! After taking a group picture, we said goodbye to the survivors, sending with them our best wishes and love. A big thank you to Bozena Gasiorowski for hosting the event, Holocaust Survivors Hadera and their leader Zola for joining HHC; Jeff and Carol for bringing their group to participate in the afternoon; Jody & Alyosha Ryabinov and Claudia for sharing their serving hearts and music with the group; and everyone else who was involved in making the day so special!