There is no greater gift than the gift of friendship. On June 23rd, eighteen survivors of the Holocaust from Netanya — led by Mila Kornich — and guests from the United States and Israel arrived at Helping Hand Coalition’s headquarters for a Shalom House event. In a morning of music, dance, and conversation, attendees brought joy into the Caesarea villa with their talents and open hearts.
Welcoming everyone, Bozena Gasiorowski, Director of the Shalom House Project, started by introducing the day’s guests — Carol Shelton, Rhonda Joanne, Dr.Stephen Pfann, Ryan Smith, and her mother, Wiesia. As she shared about the purpose of these Shalom Houses, Bozena said, “We want you to leave this place feeling recharged and refreshed.”
For the first time since Israel’s lockdowns, Jody and Alyosha Ryabinov returned to the villa to perform with their friends, Eve Woodard and Chanina Gordon. Excited to be among a new group of survivors, the Ryabinovs took time to tell their story. Married for over thirty-eight years, Jody and Alyosha were an unlikely pair. Coming from a hippy background in America, where she listened to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, Jody was the opposite of Alyosha, who was raised in Kyiv in a family of classical musicians. Nevertheless, after they got married, Jody learned how music could be a vehicle to share God’s love. Through Alyosha’s heavenly compositions and Jody’s singing, they have dedicated their lives to spreading hope to the survivors of the Holocaust all over Israel!
Opening the concert, Alyosha began by playing a song called Spring Waters of the Jordan, which he wrote the first time he visited Israel and stood on the banks of the Jordan River. He explained, “The music starts little, shallow, and then becomes wider, deeper. Wherever the river goes, it brings life and healing.”
After each Shalom House, particular moments stay in your memory. One such moment occurred as Alyosha played the piano while Chanina interpreted the notes through dance and movement. Working as a team, the song came to life in a display of reverence and joy.
Surprising everyone, one of the survivors asked if she could sing a song in Yiddish. An angel of music, Zena sang with passion and grace, giving a theatrical performance that wowed the audience.
Inspired by Zena’s songs, Eve and Alyosha followed suit and led everyone through another Yiddish tune before switching genres to American Jazz. As Eve closed her eyes and let the rhythm take her away, pouring her soul into each chord, her contentment was contagious as the room absorbed the beautiful music from her guitar.
Ending on a high note, Jody returned to the microphone to sing a few well-known Hebrew songs. Moving through the room, Chanina offered her hand to those who wanted to dance. Some chose to waltz her around, while others came together in a circle as the room sang along to Hava Nagila.
Lunch, catered by Orly, was served by Luke and Sarah Gasiorowski’s five-year-old daughter, Essie, which brightened the survivors’ faces. Watching the younger generation serve those who paved the roads we walk on was a cherished sight — especially when one of the survivors reached out to kiss Essie on the cheek.
While everyone enjoyed tea and coffee on the patio, they shared their gratitude for the morning’s event, saying, “[The Shalom House] is the best time for us!” Diana and Tatiana told Jola, one of our volunteers, “We see that everything you do is from the heart, and we feel it too!” Mila Kornich also thanked Helping Hand Coalition for inviting her group and putting on a wonderful concert and lunch.
Having been a partner of Helping Hand Coalition’s since the beginning, Carol Shelton is no stranger to the Shalom House Project. As she reminisced on the day’s event, Carol spoke about how amazing it was to break through the survivors’ reservations as they began to trust new people and how important it is to have that first point of contact as we help them up the stairs when they arrive. Carol said, “At first, they were resistant and had their arms folded, but you could see the reserve melt in the end.”
Helping Hand Coalition would like to extend its appreciation to the survivors from Netanya, our guests from America and Israel, the Ryabinovs and their friends, and HHC’s team for making this day special. It can be challenging to make new friends, but when we see how genuine and kind people are, it becomes easier to welcome them into our lives. Friendships are formed each week we host the Shalom House, reminding us that it’s never too late to make new friends.