On January 30th, twenty survivors of the Holocaust from the Club of Kiryat Nordau in Netanya, led by Rita Liberman, arrived at Helping Hand Coalition’s Caesarea headquarters for the first Shalom House event of 2023. Hosted by Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski, Co-founders of Helping Hand Coalition, the afternoon consisted of a memorial to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and a performance by Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov and their friend Chanina.
With the sun shining through threatening rain clouds, Helping Hand representatives and guests stood on the villa’s steps to greet and assist the survivors upon their arrival. As the survivors accepted each helping hand, they showed appreciation with words of thanks, a hug, or a hand kiss.
Opening the event with a warm greeting, Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski expressed their happiness to see familiar faces and introduced Pastor Igor and his wife, Svetlana, who came from Hadera, and Alice, a 90-year-old survivor who recently made Aliyah from California. During their speech, Bozena explained that since January 27th marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, she wanted to hold a candlelight vigil.
Bozena said, “In 2005, the UN General Assembly created International Holocaust Remembrance Day so the world could come together and declare, ‘Never Again!’ The days we live in today are very difficult. We don’t just fight against anti-Semitism but extremism and radicalism that is spreading around us. Therefore, we must remember the Holocaust and the six million Jews who died, one million of whom perished in Auschwitz.”
The room grew heavy as everyone stood around the glass table and dedicated a candle to the loved ones they had lost during the Holocaust. Some mourned for their grandparents who fought in the war, while others spoke of their family being killed in the Babi Yar Massacre, the liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto, and in countries like Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary. One survivor caused a long pause and chill to run down our arms as he said, “This candle is on behalf of my sister. She was four years old.”
As everyone settled back into their seats, Bozena and Pastor Igor lit hope into the haunting moment by reciting the lyrics of Perfectly Loved by Rachel Lampa. Guests and survivors alike wiped their eyes as they listened to the song and accepted the words as they were sung over them: “Even when you were running, even when you were hiding, never been a moment that you were not perfectly loved. When you barely believed it, when your eyes couldn’t see it, every single moment, you’ve always been perfectly loved.”
Moving into the second part of the event, Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov came to the front to introduce themselves and share what they hoped to showcase with their performance. Jody said, “I love the song Bozena played for us. There’s something about being perfectly loved that brings our hearts to peace. I grew up in the flower-child days, so, for me, it’s special to think about what love really is. It really is all about love — the right kind of love — and we can experience that with our Creator. So, our prayer is that you would experience that love in your hearts with every note that is played and also when Chanina dances because she is really dancing about love. So, be blessed today and enjoy.”
Bringing life into the villa, Alyosha sat behind the piano and began with a song he wrote called Spring Waters of the Jordan. He explained, “Today, it’s very appropriate to talk about healing. Horrible things happened in the past, but we are alive. In the Tanakh, Ezekiel described the Jordan River as bringing healing to everything that flows into it. The first time I came to Israel, I wanted to see this famous river, and after visiting it, I got an impression and wrote this song on the piano.”
As Alyosha transported the audience onto the banks of the Jordan, Chanina interpreted each tempo with her gracious movements. Throughout the performance, the survivors were enthralled and gave loud applause at the end of each song.
Despite only playing his original music for the last thirty years, Alyosha confessed that he makes one exception — Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp Minor. He described, “For me, this composition is a symbol of life during a time when the darkness was the worst. It was played during the Holocaust by two different Polish pianists — Natalia Karp and Wladyslaw Szpilman — [after they played it], the German officers prevented them from going to the gas chambers. Today especially, we play this with a message of hope, starting in minor and ending in major!”
The music brought tears to the audience’s eyes as they clung to the edge of their seats, absorbed in the melodies and Alyosha’s impassioned performance. His talents poured into the compositions, especially during his last song, a rhapsody of Hava Nagila. As the song drew to a close, Jody led the room in singing along to the famous tune. The survivors’ faces shone as they smiled and danced with Jody and Chanina, embracing the command in the chorus, “Hava Nagila ve-nishmeha!” (Let’s rejoice and be happy!)
As lunch, catered by Orly, was served, the survivors and guests praised the event and got to know one another. Irena, who’d moved to Israel a few days before from Saint Petersburg, was particularly excited about what she had experienced, exclaiming, “It was something else!”
Helping Hand Coalition sincerely thanks Rita Liberman and her group for joining us, Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov for their musical talents, Chanina for her dancing, and the team who worked together to make this an impactful and moving Shalom House event. May we never forget the events of the Holocaust and continue to stand with the survivors still among us today!