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Shalom House – Reconciliation Through Art

This week consisted of two Shalom House events! With more artwork to gift to the survivors, Jörn Lange and his group, Artists for Holocaust Survivors, returned for one more event. Opening Helping Hand Coalition’s headquarters to thirty-five survivors from the Foundation of Holocaust Victims based in Haifa and led by Margarita, July 12th was an afternoon of reuniting with friends and reconciliation through art! 

Beginning the event with introductions, Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski (Co-Founders of Helping Hand Coalition) shared their excitement to see familiar faces. Then, before returning to Poland to continue aiding those impacted by the war in Ukraine, Norbert Palimąka (Founder of the ESPA Foundation) spoke a few words. “It is a great joy to see you happy, satisfied, and smiling. On behalf of my wife and the organization we lead, I would like to extend my warmest greetings from Poland. The most important information I want to convey is that Poles love and remember you. We bless you. See you soon.”

Along with Helping Hand Coalition’s team and co-organizer, Alexander Dietze, we welcomed guests who had never been to a Shalom House event before. Invited to tell the group about himself, Yehuda Arbel stood and shared, “I am an artist and sculptor with work exhibited all over the country. I am also the son of a Holocaust survivor and was born in a detainment camp in Cyprus. My father was a sculptor in the camp, and when I came to Israel, I continued his work and currently design pieces in memory of the Shoah.” 

Expressing her group’s gratitude to be members of Helping Hand Global Forum, Margarita said, “The aid you’re giving us helps us go on with life. We always have a smile on our faces being with you.”

Taking his place behind the piano, Alyosha Ryabinov opened the floodgates of heaven and washed the villa in beautiful melodies inspired by his first trip to the Jordan River. Then, in a spontaneous collaboration with Alexander, the audience watched as the two musicians created a new masterpiece, filled with hope and joy. 

Alexander Dietze is no stranger to the Haifa survivors. Having met many times, he took a moment to speak of the reconciliation between Christians and Jews. As more Christians open their eyes to Israel and the Jewish people, they realize there is a need to ask for forgiveness and bring love to the Jews. “We see in the Tanakh that we are to comfort and bless God’s people,” Alexander exclaimed. “So, I stand here today as a German Christian and say that I’m sorry for the past and, on the other side, I say that I’m here for you.”

Closing his eyes and letting his heart lead, Alexander lifted his arms toward the sky and sang a Hebrew song about God’s grace. As he sang, it was evident that Alexander was thanking God for extending grace to his family and other Germans — along with the rest of the world — after the wrongs they had committed. The survivors were touched by this display and accepted the apology that dripped off of every note. 

Welcoming Jörn and the two artists joining him on this trip, Rod and Marianne Billitt, to the front, Andre translated as Jörn told the survivors about the impact his trip to Auschwitz had on him seven years before. He explained that when he returned to his hotel room after touring the death camp, he knelt before God and asked, “How do I respond to this? What do I do with this?” Opening his Bible to the book of Isaiah, Jörn read of God making beauty for ashes and knew what he needed to do next. Forming the Artists for Holocaust Survivors with painters from all over the world — America, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, and Cyprus — Jörn’s group has dedicated their time to paint as they pray, asking God to guide their hands as they design a piece that will mean something to its rightful owner. 

Before inviting the survivors to walk through the exhibit and choose the artwork that touches their hearts the most, Jörn gave a final word of encouragement, “We want to tell you that your God is still here; He hasn’t forgotten you. He has beauty and wants to give it back into your life. That’s why we are here today, and that’s what this exhibit is all about.”

Taking in each piece’s color, texture, imagery, and description, the survivors took their time perusing the rows. A few even became emotional, quietly wiping their eyes as the artwork spoke to their hearts.

When asked why they picked their paintings, many survivors stood to share — often attributing the pieces to their childhoods or their relationship with Helping Hand Coalition. 

Irena Finkelstein held up a picture called “Healing Your Heart” by Ingeborg Mantel and explained, “I chose the painting that touched my heart from the beginning. The heart is being healed. What I understand is that the people gathering here are here to touch the hearts and bring healing to those very wounded after the Holocaust.”

Diana Zoltan chose a piece called “Altar of Incense” by Marianne Billitt and said, “We would only burn when we have something good to offer. This [painting] will stay with me forever and remind me that what you [Helping Hand Coalition] are doing is so good, and I just want to wish you growth.”

Aaron Zornist found depth in one of Jörn’s paintings, “Future Growth.” He explained, “I chose this painting of a tree that is not existing. Its branches are white – invisible. And all that remains is the trunk and root. From the root is new life, and our lives are continuing. We are very grateful for this country and that we are here.”

Aaron’s wife, Ella, was also touched by a piece by Jörn; however, rather than feeling a connection with the picture, it was Jörn’s description of the piece that captured her attention. She said, “Everybody was looking at the picture and then reading. I was first reading. Many people connect the pictures to their lives, but I want to say that [my reason] is about you, and I like you very much.”

The last guest to share was probably the most powerful. Zehavit was born in a detention camp in Cyprus after her family was rejected from entering Israel by the British during the Mandate. Explaining the tragic conditions more than 50,000 Jews had to live in, Zehavit told the audience that each time she sees the sea and waves, she is reminded of her parents and the thousands of babies, children, and Jews whose boats were turned around at Israel’s port. Incredibly, the image that elicited these emotions was one by Marianne called “Seashore.”

As a Brit, Marianne felt compelled to respond to Zehavit’s speech. “It’s a privilege to meet you today,” she said. “I am the artist that painted that picture, so I want to say I’m so sorry that we did not let you go home and for what you suffered as a refugee due to what Great Britain did. Would you give us your forgiveness?”

Zehavit looked at Marianne and her husband, Rod, and replied, “I forgive you, but it is necessary to remember and never forget.”

During lunch — catered by Orly — the survivors continued to speak about their artwork and feelings about the afternoon. Many pulled the team aside to thank them for inviting and supporting them. As one guest remarked, “Art, culture, companionship, and food… What more can we ask for?” 

Helping Hand Coalition appreciates each survivor, team member, and guest who brought meaning and love to this event. It was a pleasure to have the Artists for Holocaust Survivors back in the Land; this will surely not be the last time. We also want to thank Alexander Dietze for organizing these two events, Alyosha Ryabinov for performing, and our other guests: Margarita and the Foundation of Holocaust Victims, Norbert and Ivanka Palimąka, Yehuda and Ditza Arbel, Rosie Ross, Ety, Zehavit, and everyone else who participated in this epic Shalom House! 

Click here to view all the pictures from the event

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