“He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:3
This week, five events were hosted by Helping Hand Coalition, organized by Alexander and Cecilia Dietze, HHC representatives. Beginning on the 25th of June until the 2nd of July, a group from Artists for the Holocaust Survivors traveled around Israel to exhibit their paintings to groups of Holocaust survivors. The locations included: Karmiel, Ma’arot, Katzrin, Caesarea, and Tel Aviv. Each event made an imprint on the hearts of those in attendance and inspired many who went home with a painting.
The organization, Artists for the Holocaust Survivors, was birthed after Jörn Lange, its founder, visited Auschwitz for the first time. Leaving the deadliest concentration camp of the Holocaust, Jörn’s heart was heavy and he didn’t know how to deal with what he saw. Returning to his hotel room, Jörn got on his knees and asked God to show him what he was supposed to do after walking on the same ground where more than a million people lost their lives.
Jörn was given three words, “Beauty for ashes.” Asking for more of an explanation, Jörn felt led to find Christian artists from around the world who would paint while they prayed and then take the paintings to Israel to give them as gifts to Holocaust survivors. Their message: To give the beauty of God back to those who had lost everything.
Before the exhibit began, the survivors were told to find the painting that caused a rush of emotion or connection upon viewing. On a couple of occasions, survivors were brought to tears when they came across a painting that stood out to them.
Claudia, one of the artists, retold a response she received after a survivor saw one of her canvases. The painting was of a little boy sitting in a forest reading a book, with a light shining out of the pages, illuminating the little boy’s face. With tears in her eyes, the survivor told Claudia how the picture reminded her of her little brother who had died during the war. Taking the picture home that day, it was as if the survivor was getting a small piece of her brother back, after all these years!
Cornelia also had an incredible experience with a survivor. Her painting was noticed by a husband and wife. The green and gold in the picture reminded the husband of nature. He told Cornelia that his dream during the war was to have one day of freedom amongst nature and Cornelia’s picture, called Path of Hope, was exactly what that freedom would have looked like.
Another story came from Jörn. On the very first exhibition, a survivor saw one of his paintings and stood stunned! Claiming that just two days before she had had two dreams, the first was only darkness while the second was of the picture she was looking at! Jörn explained his picture by telling the survivor that the place represented Rehoboth, a city in the Bible where God said He would give them space and hope. He interpreted the first vision the survivor had to be about the darkness of her past, while the second was about hope and finding a place of peace and rest. Receiving his words, she exclaimed that she wanted peace and hope more than anything in the world. In a small way, the painting will hang as a symbol of the peace she wants to find.
Each picture that was brought by the Artists for the Holocaust Survivors did not go unwanted and every painting was given to those who fell in love at first sight with the creations that were inspired through love and prayer. When one survivor found a painting of two hands lifted up in prayer, she broke into tears. She told the painter that while she was in the ghettos, she would regularly pray to God with her hands clasped just like in the painting! Seeing that image showed her that God had heard her prayers as a little girl who was praying for redemption! The exhibit brought out many emotions, but before the end of the event, the emotions turned to thanksgiving!
Along with the exhibition, Sunday’s (June 30th) event included a concert led by Alyosha Ryabinov and Alexander Dietze. Other performers included Dagi, a graceful dancer, and Claudia, an inspired pianist. The afternoon felt more than a weekly Shalom House, it was an afternoon that sparked hope for the future.
Everyone was full of life and excitement upon arrival. You would never have guessed that the fifty Holocaust survivors from Nazareth were almost 90 years old. Most of the men still had a spring in their step, and the women were ready to dance and sing-along as soon as the music started.
Claudia and Alyosha serenaded us with their anointed talents. As they played, Dagi turned each note into a dance, becoming one with the music and letting it sweep her into its world. It was a joy to watch and even more exciting when Jody, Alexander and Cecilia, and a couple of artists joined in to sing songs like Shalom Aleichem and Hava Nagila. As volunteers and guests danced to the songs, the urge to join in was too strong for some survivors to deny. Before long, the floor was crowded with people dancing and laughing together as the songs were played.
There was a feeling of community and love in the Caesarea villa. No one was left out and when the food was served, people had the chance to get to know one another and learn a little bit about each other’s pasts.
The entire week with Artists for the Holocaust Survivors was inspiring and powerful. Witnessing the survivors response to some of the artwork was an intense and tear-jerking moment, but the joy that stayed on their faces once they reloaded onto the bus with their pictures in hand was worth more than all the money in the world.
HHC was also gifted with a beautiful canvas that will be hung in the Caesarea villa. Designed by Karin Grimberg, the meaning behind the painting comes from Zechariah 13:1, “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” In the center of the Star of David, a fountain opens up, flowing to both sides. The star is engraved into the sand as well as into the stream of water. The artwork was created using mixed media. Applying real sand, Karin explained that it symbolized God’s promise to Abraham, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17) The painting was made to inspire feelings of hope and faith to anyone who looks upon it, and it will certainly achieve its goal.
Thank you to Alexander and Cecilia Dietze for planning these events and bringing the groups of Holocaust survivors together for a time that will not be easily forgotten. Thanks to Jörn Lange and those from Artists for the Holocaust Survivors for working tirelessly to make masterpieces and willingly giving them to survivors who needed them the most. The groups of survivors that made the journey to each event, your presence was a blessing to us! To all the other volunteers and people who helped make the time together entertaining and beautiful, thank you so much for your contribution, it did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
We look forward to meeting more Artists for the Holocaust Survivors and reveling in the company of one another the next time they come to Israel with their creations!