The Shalom House Project hits the road! After months of cancelled events and a nationwide lockdown, it was a thrill to gather in small groups with the survivors of the Holocaust and celebrate life amid this season of Covid-19. With strict restrictions in place to prevent the virus’ spread, the Shalom House team travelled to hostels and a meeting hall to perform, share, gift, commemorate, encourage, and celebrate with the survivors.
On June 4th, the first Mobile Shalom House took place at Nadia’s hostel in Hadera! Gathering in excitement to be reunited, it was quite a shock to look around and see everyone wearing a face mask and having to keep a two-meter social distance. Nevertheless, as Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov began singing, the survivors’ eyes lit up at their sweet music. Blessed to be back together, the team showed their love by blowing masked kisses and making heart shapes with their hands; in return, the survivors responded with clapping.
The following week, on June 10th, the team returned to Hadera and visited another hostel where a group of survivors, led by Tova, gathered. Accompanied by a couple from Germany, Richard and Katja, along with their translator, Sofia, the afternoon was a heartfelt occasion of storytelling, music, and singing. Brightening the mood, Richard and Katja performed songs in both Hebrew and German, inciting the survivors to clap and sing along to the tunes. As everyone sat in the homely space, Richard shared about the heart of God, encouraging the survivors in an impactful way. Though it was challenging to wear the masks throughout the event, the survivors were nonetheless thankful for the team’s presence.
In a bright and spacious room overlooking the Binyamina train station, June 21st’s Mobile Shalom House event took place at Jacob Hope Facilities, hosted by Judith and Michael Maurer. With a lot of hard work from the team and volunteers, Alexander and Cecilia Dietze, a group of World War II veterans were brought from Akko to enjoy an afternoon of beautiful music, performed by Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov, along with Claudia Gaz.
After the concert Claudia, the veterans’ leader, presented each of them with a medal, paying tribute to their memories and victories during World War II. This years marks the 75th anniversary of the war’s end, and emotions swirled through the room as the veterans thought back on their heroic youth.
Served at the event were delicious sandwiches that were beautifully and hermetically sealed by Alina’s Delivery Service, strengthening the veterans for their journey home. With reluctance, they returned to their bus, the memory of the event still fresh on their minds.
The last event of the month took place on June 24th, once again meeting at Nadia’s hostel in Hadera. An afternoon of birthday celebrations, the team wished each survivor health, joy, and happiness, before singing songs and sharing encouraging stories. Returning to the Shalom House, Richard led the survivors in singing a famous Hebrew song, Hineh Ma Tov, which was inspired by Psalm 133:1, “Behold how good and how pleasing / for brothers (people) to sit together in unity.”
Two other performers, Lydia and Roman, were also present at the event. Sharing about her childhood and Aliyah process, Lydia sang from the Psalms and felt honored to be a part of the event. Roman, who was born in Russia but immigrated to Israel, took the survivors back to their homeland with songs from their youth. It was bittersweet to watch them reminisce about their families and the memories that surround the famous tunes; but, after singing the last note, one of the survivors stood to thank Roman and the rest of the team for coming to remember their birthdays and create new memories with them.
Before the end of each event, gift bags, provided by one of Helping Hand Coalition’s sponsors, GAiN Germany, were given to the survivors, producing smiles on all their faces. In spite of the Coronavirus, the Shalom House team felt blessed to spend the month seeing the survivors and spreading joy to those who mean so much to us! This coming month, the project will continue finding safe ways to gather, and, God willing, more events will ensue.
Bozena Gasiorowski, director of the Shalom House Project, reflected on this month’s events and shared these words, “When the quarantine was lifted, I wasn’t sure if we should start visiting the survivors, taking into consideration the current regulations for people gathering together. I thought it would be too difficult; however, we cannot wait for the perfect circumstances, especially with those who are nearing the end of their lives. So, we travelled to see the survivors and the result was astonishing. Though it was uncomfortable to be with masks and keep at a distance, seeing the survivors lifted spirits and joyful gazes made it all worthwhile.”