Over two thousand years ago, a small Jewish army led by the Maccabees defeated the Greeks, regaining control of Jerusalem and the Temple. Each year, we light our menorahs for eight days to remember their victory, the rededication of the Temple, and God’s deliverance and miracles. On December 22nd, the fourth day of Hanukkah, sixteen survivors of the Holocaust from Beit Ham in Or Akiva, led by Sofia, arrived at Helping Hand Coalition’s headquarters for a special Hanukkah Shalom House lunch!
Welcoming everyone to the afternoon’s event, Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski, Co-Founders of Helping Hand Coalition, began by introducing the performers and thanking the survivors for coming. They said, “We are very happy to have you in our villa. This isn’t your first time here, so we’re glad you feel at home with us.”
To begin the time together, Bozena invited Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov and Sofia to help light the menorah. As Jody lit the Shamash, the helper candle, she led the room in a Hanukkah prayer: “Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b-mitzvotav, v-tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.” (Blessed are you, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to light the Hanukkah lights.)
“The best way to spread [Hanukkah] cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” ~ Will Ferrell (Elf)
While each Shalom House event is dedicated to entertaining and blessing survivors of the Holocaust, Beit Ham surprised the Helping Hand team with their own prepared performance. A festive cheer filled the villa as the survivors sang, accompanied by their friend, Dimitri, a guitarist who came especially to play with them. Throughout their mini-concert, the survivors’ faces lit up in excitement as they shared their talents, blessing us with the greatest gift this holiday season.
At the end of their last song, Clara came to the front to thank Andre, Bozena, Luke, and Sarah Gasiorowski for their help and to present them with gifts. A talented poet, Clara also recited a newly constructed prose that spoke of God bringing His people through difficult times. Before returning to her seat, she said, “It’s so good to have a meeting with such a wonderful holiday atmosphere. We’re just so happy to be together again. These gifts are to remind us that this is a holiday of joy for us all.”
As the survivors sat at the beautifully decorated table, the team served them a delicious lunch of latkas, lasagna, and salad. Alyosha Ryabinov also used the time to share about Hanukkah and the significance lighting the menorah has on our lives as we praise God and declare, “Am Israel Chi!” (The Nation of Israel Lives!) Then, before everyone ate, Bozena asked the survivors to think about a time – either from long ago or recently – when they experienced a Hanukkah miracle.
After lunch, Alyosha sat behind the piano to play music with his wife, Jody, and their friends, Eve and Chanina. As Alyosha performed original songs, Chanina brought the music to life with interpretive dancing. The survivors’ eyes shone in delight as they watched her expressive movements. Clara even joined Chanina, and they danced together with laughter and glee!
Eve, a trained Jazz guitarist who recently made Aliyah, added more cheer to the afternoon when she began singing a famous Yiddish song. The survivors knew all the words and sang along, waving their arms in the air and clapping to the tune of their youth.
In a precious moment that touched everyone’s hearts, Jody serenaded the survivors as she moved around the room, pausing to sing a line to each of them. Kissing and hugging the survivors between verses, Jody spread her love and gentleness, which they cherished. At the song’s end, one survivor stood from her chair to hug Jody and share words of gratitude.
No Hanukkah party is complete without sufganiyot (donuts), so as the survivors awaited the bus to take them home, they enjoyed the sugared treat while their leader, Sofia, answered the question Bozena had posed before lunch. She explained, “I was working in the shopping center when I met Andre by chance. I said to him, ‘Andre, we are very sad. We would like you to remember us and allow us to give you our love.’ So, Andre started to come to us. Being here today is our Hanukkah miracle, and we wish you only goodness and kindness. Next time, we’d like to invite you to Or Akiva!”
It was a lovely afternoon of holiday joy as we celebrated Hanukkah. Helping Hand Coalition is so grateful to everyone who supports us, making Shalom House events and other projects possible. We also want to extend our thanks to Sofia and her group, Beit Ham, for coming and surprising us with their lovely concert. Along with sending our gratitude to the Ryabinovs and their friends for shining a light and wearing their hearts on their sleeves as they came to bless the survivors.
We wish everyone a blessed Hanukkah and a Happy New Year!