Hope, joy, and love filled the HHC Caesarea Villa on January 13th as twenty survivors from Beit Cham, based in Haifa, returned to Caesarea for another Shalom House event. As the survivors’ bus arrived, hugs and kisses were given in greeting. Everyone was full of jubilation as though last week’s event was not enough for the members of Beit Cham, and they wanted more!
Bozena Gasiorowski, director of the Shalom House Project, was thrilled to welcome the group back to the villa and, after introducing everyone, handed the microphone over to Alyosha Ryabinov, who performed a soul-filled, inspiring, concert.
The first song Alyosha played was nothing short of heavenly. The stunning piece had many levels that drew the audience in, causing every ear to be attentive to each note. The chorus sang, “How I love you,” and everyone felt these words as they were played. It was as if God was saying, “I love you” to those in the audience.
At the end of each song, the crowd clapped and shouted, “Bravo!” With music filling the villa and a houseful of lovely company, the atmosphere was warm and full of life.
Putting on their dancing shoes, the survivors were elated when Jody, Alyosha’s wife, led the crowd in singing a few songs. As everyone sang along to Hava Nagila and Shalom Aleichem, some survivors joined our volunteers as they danced around the room!
As with all the Shalom House events, this afternoon was about more than performing for the survivors; it was a time of sharing a piece of ourselves with one another. In the two hours that we were gathered in the villa, bonds were formed, and lives were blessed. Alyosha shared his gift of music; Jody sang her heart out and spoke about her life with Alyosha before and after coming to Israel, and two survivors bravely gave a testimony of their experiences during the war.
“Something happens when we tell our stories. It strengthens us to see how far we’ve come, and it also encourages other people.” ~ Jody Ryabinov
David Maltzer was six years old when the war crashed into his life. Though he doesn’t like to remember the dark days of his childhood, he stood in front of the microphone to share a few of his memories for those who wanted to hear.
The oldest of three children, David saw a lot during the first days of the war. His family had to flee from the Germans, and as they ran, the German fighter planes tried to shoot them down from above. When they reached the train station, David’s father hid in the bush and began firing at the planes with a rifle he’d been given just a few days before. At the time, David didn’t understand why the aircrafts were not falling when his father was shooting; however, he will never forget his father’s attempts to save his family, or the images of a bombed market that had dead animals and people laying all over the rubble.
“The German troops and there were many, were faster than us,” David said as he accounts the moment that the Germans captured him and his family before taking them to a ghetto. “I want to say one thing about the ghetto,” David exclaimed, “In the ghetto, a person did not have any rights. He wasn’t considered to be a human being.”
For sixteen minutes, David relayed about being taken to the ghetto, how the Germans and Romanians came and shot as many Jews as they could before his family was put on a train covered in barbed wire, where they were transported to a new place and forced to work. The story was horrific to listen to, but goosebumps appeared when David spoke about the day that the work prison was liberated. He can still remember one of the leaders, who had frequently beaten people, apologizing to the Jews before the army came to set them free!
Just before the end of the war, in 1943, Maya Mikalieva was born. Though she has no first-hand memories of the war, Maya felt led to share about the journey her mother, grandmother, and grandfather went on to survive.
From a musical family, Maya’s mother was very gifted and given a scholarship to a music school where she studied until she graduated and went to college. The future looked bright for Maya’s mother, but, at the beginning of the war, while she was working at a hospital, the doctor advised Maya’s mother to flee with her family.
Maya’s grandfather believed that the Germans would not come near Ukraine since they never touched them during the First World War, while Maya’s mother, however, disagreed and urged her family to run away. They traveled more than 200 kilometers to safety, dodging bombs that came from German planes and all other threats that came their way. After the war, Maya’s family was permitted to return to Ukraine. Her only memory of the war is visiting a cemetery in Kyrgyzstan, where all the Jews had been buried in one grave.
Lunch was served after the survivors shared with the group, and as everyone devoured the delicious food, the room began to be filled with chatter. The members of Beit Cham shared their appreciation with Bozena and the team, and one of the leaders, Leonid Belov, couldn’t help but sing a song in Russian. He exclaimed that the event had touched him and put a song in his heart that he had to perform, and it was beautiful. No one wanted this exceptional afternoon to end, and when the bus driver announced that it was time to go home, many more hugs and kisses were shared as the team walked the survivors to their bus.
Thank you to all the volunteers who prepared the villa for the event! Also, thanks to Beit Cham for returning for a second time; and, to the Ryabinovs whose loving hearts touch the lives of the survivors each week they come to perform at the HHC Caesarea Villa!