Outstanding Carnegie Hall opera singers. Heart-warming children’s choir. Phenomenal musicians. The international art festival Jerusalem Lights made its Israel debut, last week, and performed for the survivors of the Holocaust at a Shalom House event. Hosted by Helping Hand Coalition, the evening received high praise after the array of talent wowed the audience with a magnificent concert performance!
It was a night at the opera at the HHC Caesarea Villa on November 24th. As guests entered through the front door, they were welcomed with a warm sensation of celebration and life, which set the atmosphere for the evening. Jerusalem Lights, an international art festival established in Vancouver Canada in 2014, had traveled around Israel for five days before performing their final show at the HHC Caesarea Villa for a Shalom House event. As everyone took their seats, a swell of anticipation filled the villa as the concert began.
Havarim, an opera group made up of four gentlemen — Kreshnik Zhabjaku, Vago Ohanyian, Iouri Viderman, and Izchak Haimov — raised the roof with their performance. Professionally trained and having individually performed at Carnegie Hall, these powerhouses were brought together by Margarita Kagan, an American music producer, who then joined forces with Alexandra Gerson, a Canadian journalist and founder of Jerusalem Lights. It was their first time in Israel, and the experience more than impacted them. As the four men harmonized, their voices felt like a touch from heaven.
Accompanying Havarim was a children’s choir from New York, who warmed the hearts of the forty survivors who had come from Hadera to attend the event. Emotions ran high at the end of their first song as the lead boy began to cry after being presented with flowers. Unbeknown to the crowd, the boy’s father had passed away the day before, and he would spend the rest of the event watching his father’s funeral halfway across the world through Facetime. His courage to sing in his father’s honor elevated the song to new heights and inspired his friends to continue the concert without him.
Israeli performers, Michael Riskin, Alex Gold, and Sanya Kroitor, also took the stage. As Michael poured passion into each song, people took out their phones to remember the moment and share it with their loved ones once they returned home. Sanya Kroitor surprised everyone during Alex Gold’s performance when he came into view playing his violin at jaw-dropping speed. As the audience listened, they were given wings to fly. For their last few songs, Sanya welcomed his father, Emil, to the stage to play his accordion. Together the father-son duo performed for the crowd, and everyone loved it!
No one wanted the concert to end; at the end of each song, the survivors would shout, “Bravo!” while clapping for more. The music continued as refreshments and light snacks were served, and discussions about the concert began. An echo of praise bounced off the villa’s walls as each person thanked the performers for coming to Israel and blessing them with their incredible talent.
Andre Gasiorowski and I also had the opportunity to interview Alexandra Gerson and learn more about Jerusalem Lights. Alexandra told us,
“Why Jerusalem Lights? Because many Jewish people live in Canada, some of them coming from Israel while others from the USSR. Even though they live in Canada, they feel their Jewishness and belonging to Israel. That’s why we would like to keep our traditional music because I was born in the former USSR, and we never had the opportunity to do that in that country. Finally, we can be Jewish. We have the opportunities, and we decided to do it.”
As the interview continued, Alexandra was at a loss for words to express her appreciation for being invited to participate in the Shalom House Project and also have the opportunity to watch the survivors as they enjoyed the music.
Helping Hand Coalition was honored to host this night at the opera. The event, however, would not have been possible without Alexandra Gerson, from Vera Radio stationed in Vancouver, Canada; Margarita Kagan who brought Havarim together and also organized the performers to come to Israel during this time; Olga Gelfand who introduced Jerusalem Lights to Helping Hand Coalition; all the performers — Kreshnik Zhabjaku, Vago Ohanjian, Iouri Viderman, Izchak Haimov, Michael Riskin, Alex Gold, Sanya Kroitor, and the children’s choir from New York; and our amazing volunteers!
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