On May 30th, Helping Hand Coalition opened its headquarters in Caesarea to two groups of survivors of the Holocaust. Arriving from Ashdod and Hadera, the forty-four survivors wore bright smiles in anticipation of what the afternoon would bring. Gracing the villa with his anointed music, a renowned concert violinist blew the audience away with a performance to remember. Also present were Jeff Shelton with his group and Harald Eckert, Director of Christen an der Seite Israels.
It was an incredible afternoon as everyone took their seats for a Shalom House concert unlike any other! Welcoming the day’s guests, Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski introduced themselves and the Helping Hand partners visiting from the States and Germany. Explaining what Helping Hand Coalition is all about, Andre said, “There are two hands — the helping and the giving — Jeff and Harald have been two of the giving for more than fifteen years!” In a tribute to Harald Eckart’s work, Andre awarded him a medal on behalf of Avraham Grinzaid, Chairman of the Union of World War II Veterans in Israel – Fighters Against Nazism. Issued by Defense Minister Benjamin Ganz, the medal was given on the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War II, commemorating the heroism of 1,500,000 Jewish fighters who fought against Nazi Germany and its aids and in memory of the 250,000 who fell during the war (1939-1945).
Sharing words of thanks, Harald said, “It’s an honor for me to be with you today and be back in Israel after 2.5 years. It’s good to meet you all, and I trust we’ll have an enjoyable afternoon together.”
Unable to wait to give their gifts, Vladimir Listengarten, the Ashdod group’s leader, presented Andre and Bozena with flowers and a bagged gift. Taking the microphone, Vladimir conveyed his gratitude to Andre and Helping Hand Global Forum for all the work done in Israel and Ukraine.
Opening the concert, the violinist shared his heart with the audience, remembering the last time he came to the Shalom House and fell in love with the survivors. Playing a medley of famous Israeli songs, the violinist filled the villa with music while his wife interpreted the tunes through dance. Together, they were a unit, a flowing river that worked together to bring passion and love into the performance. Joy encompassed the room as the survivors were washed in the music, oftentimes moved by the incredible talent of the two performers.
While most know “Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz, the violinist explained that two Jewish immigrants actually wrote it during the Holocaust. Full of hope, the lyrics take on an entirely new meaning after learning that their purpose was to encourage the Jews that all of this will be over one day. “If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow/Why, oh why can’t I?”
Taking us to heaven and back with his incredible rendition of the song, the violinist closed his eyes and let the music take him away, captivating the audience. Though we couldn’t see them, angels were surely dancing around the room at the celebration of life taking place as God’s children gathered together. At the concert’s end, even Bozena exclaimed, “You’re like angels from heaven. I’m speechless and need to digest everything I just listened to; it was very emotional and spiritual.”
Following the performance, the leader of the Hadera group, Sima Fiedosova, thanked Helping Hand Coalition and shared her story. Born in 1941, she still has memories of the war, causing the current conflict in Ukraine to bring her great sorrow.
Moved to tears, Elana introduced the room to her husband, a Holocaust survivor. She said, “I praise God for everyone coming from America and Germany. Glory to Him because He’s taking care of us.” It was a touching moment made even more profound when Harald stood to shake the survivor’s hand in recognition and solidarity for all his family went through.
Lunch was beautifully served to the survivors by our guests. Catered by Orly, the food was enjoyed in the living room before tea and coffee were supplied on the patio outside. Basking in the sunshine, the survivors conversed amongst themselves, no doubt speaking about the incredible performance they’d just witnessed. Taking Luke Gasiorowski, Executive Director of Helping Hand Coalition, aside, Rachel told him, “Thank you for these Shalom Houses. They bring us life.”
Our sincerest gratitude is extended to the survivors, performers, guests, and team who made this a truly remarkable day. We look forward to these weekly Shalom Houses, so it makes our hearts swell to see the survivors enjoy these events as much as we do!