After a long pandemic and closed borders, Helping Hand Coalition was thrilled to welcome our first international guests back to the Land on March 13th! Organized by Don and Marta Patten and led by Hector and Diana Gonzales, the pastors of Church of New Hope, based in California, the group ranged from twelve to fifty years old. After spending almost two years raising funds and preparing their hearts to serve the survivors of the Holocaust, the group stood on the steps of the HHC Headquarters, smiles wide and hands open, as sixteen survivors from Netanya arrived for an afternoon of entertainment and dining.
Greeting the survivors, the Church of New Hope group opened the event with introductions and testimonies about their journey to be with the survivors. In return, Mila Kornich, the leader of the survivors’ group, The Promised Home, gave Don and Marta a card with a poem, sharing the survivors’ appreciation for everything the group has done for them.
The day also marked the birthday of Bozena Gasiorowski, Director of the Shalom House Project! Surprising Bozena, the survivors brought her a beautiful gift and poem to honor her life and highlight the meaning of her name, “Gift of God.”
Before lunch was served, the Church of New Hope performed a concert for the survivors. During their preparations to come to Israel, the group learned songs in both Hebrew and Russian so the survivors could understand the words they were singing. The gesture was not lost on the survivors, and they marveled at the show! Clapping and singing along, they were deeply touched.
While the survivors loved the whole performance, Hector and Diana’s twelve-year-old grandson, Ethan, stole the show. With a passion for the piano, Ethan explained that it was his dream to perform for the survivors. As he took a seat behind the piano, the room grew still as the survivors leaned in to listen. Absorbed in the moment, the beautiful music filled the room as the melodies touched everyone’s hearts.
The whole villa was moved with emotion when Marta came to the front to sing about Ukraine. For a few minutes, everyone listened in silence to the words of the song and Don’s prayer for safety and peace. Many of the survivors were moved to tears as they mourned what is happening in their homeland. Just like they had to more than eighty years ago, their grandchildren are fleeing their homes, something they never imagined would happen again. While the survivors appreciated having an afternoon to let go of their worries and enjoy themselves, it was significant for them to know that we are all standing with them.
Moving in a rhythmical sequence, a few members of the Church of New Hope shared why they wanted to come to Israel. Coming from a poor background, they had worked dedicatedly to raise the money to be there — every other weekend for over a year, they washed people’s cars and saved every penny, despite needing the money for rent and bills. One young woman, Paula, spoke of learning about the Holocaust in school and how the lesson had sprouted deep respect for the survivors who had fought for their lives despite experiencing so much devastation and hardships. With her phone in hand, Gracey read the story of her high school friend, Alicia, to the survivors. A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Alicia’s testimony is one of struggle and redemption. Gracey read Alicia’s closing words, “I serve a very good God who is by my side even when it’s dark. My God will make it all beautiful in the end. Even from the ashes.”
Lunch was served banquet style. With a long table spread through the villa’s foyer, the Church of New Hope served the survivors a meal of delicious chicken skewers, vegetables, and potato salad. As they ate, the group sat among the survivors and conversed with them, using Google Translate as an aid.
At the end of the event, the Church of New Hope gave each of the survivors gift bags to take home. In the bags were a flashlight, journal, and pens. The women also received a pink manicure kit, while the men were given a multi-purpose pen. Scared to walk at night in case they fall, the flashlights will be an excellent guide for the survivors, protecting them from injury. Helping Hand Coalition extends our deepest gratitude to Don and Marta Patten and everyone from the Church of New Hope for organizing and hosting this fantastic Shalom House event! We also want to thank Mila Kornich’s group, The Promised Home, for coming.