There is nothing quite like visiting survivors of the Holocaust and watching their larger-than-life outlook illuminate a room. On June 4th, just before the start of Shabbat, Bozena Gasiorowski and Rita Tager — representatives from Helping Hand Coalition — along with Elena Zaslavsky — from the local municipality — attended a Shalom House event in Or Akiva, hosted at the home Sofia, leader of Beit Ham.
As Bozena, Rita, and Elena were welcomed into Sofia’s home, the scene reassembled the musical number in Beauty and the Beast when Belle is ushered into the dining room for dinner. Excited to have guests, the survivors doted on them, showing them to their seats before setting the table with dishes of delicious food, filling the apartment with mouth-watering aromas.
Ranging from eighty to eighty-five years old, the survivors emanated with energy and glee as they conversed with their guests of honor. One of the survivors, Alena, emphasized that their presence brought beauty into the group’s loneliness, admitting that after the COVID-19 lockdowns, coming together filled the survivors’ souls and hearts with great happiness.
Once the table was set, everyone took a seat and raised a glass as Sofia began the meal with a toast, thanking Helping Hand Coalition for joining them and sharing memories of the times her group had attended Shalom House events at the Helping Hand Coalition Villa in Caesarea. She said, “We have all gone through a lot of things; but, when we’re together, our difficulties don’t feel so hard anymore.”
Expressing her equal gratitude, Bozena thanked the group for their warm welcome exclaiming, “I wasn’t sure how many of you I would know; but, then I saw so many of your familiar faces and was grateful to see you and hear about all the wonderful times we had.”
Clinking their glasses in agreement, the table saluted, “L’Chaim!”
While plates were filled and everyone began eating, Alena stood to recite two poems she had written. Usually, survivors find it too emotional to share about their past, but this group wanted to remember where they came from and openly shared their experiences. Alena remarked, “There is a God. We might not have had a childhood, but God has given us a beautiful life in our old age in our beautiful Israel. We are so happy that people are helping us because of what we went through, and now we are like little children, though thank God our heads are still working.” Laughter sounded as Alena spoke, her bright presence encouraging others to share.
When Clara stood to contribute, goosebumps appeared on Bozena and Rita’s arms as they listened to Clara’s profound wisdom. Reciting her own poem about the immortality of our souls, she reiterated what Alena had said about memories. “It is important we remember where we came from and what Helping Hand Coalition is doing brings people together to create new memories.” With her heart full, Clara presented Bozena with a gift to symbolize growth — a glass bottle, tiered with different seeds, coated in oil. Explaining each layer, Clara described, “Just like us, there are many layers and colors in this bottle; we are all different, but we come together. May our friendship be productive and fruitful.”
Before the meal’s end, Sofia led the table in a song of friendship. The words floated through the air, landing in each person’s heart as they felt the love from each note sung.
This Friday afternoon will remain in the hearts of those in attendance forever. While the world continues to fight COVID-19, it’s moments like these that remind us why Helping Hand Coalition exists. Being with the survivors, seeing smiles spread across their faces, aiding them through their struggles, and feeling the love and appreciation they show through their serving and grateful hearts is more than one can put into words.
Thank you to Sofia and Beit Ham for allowing us to celebrate life with you all.
See all the pictures HERE: