As a soft breeze cooled the spring day on March 6th, Helping Hand Coalition opened the doors of its Caesarea Headquarters to welcome twenty survivors of the Holocaust from Netanya, led by Galena, and American pianist, Alex Zsolt, for a Purim Shalom House event that showcased the love of God, the gift of music, the restoration of sight, and the joy of friendship!
Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski, Co-Founders of Helping Hand Coalition, hosted the event and opened with words of gratitude toward the survivors and guests for attending the morning’s event. Bozena went on to explain that during the concert, Bruce Becker would be conducting an eye clinic so the survivors would not only have their ears blessed with inspiring music but their eyes opened with new reading and distance glasses!
With a charming smile and a great sense of humor, Alex Zsolt came to the front of the stage and introduced himself. When he was six years old, Alex tickled the ivories of the piano for the first time. Feeling an immediate connection to music, he accepted the gift God has bestowed on him and has spent the last twenty-five years sharing his talent worldwide. “It’s good to be here,” he started. “I’ve been playing the piano since 1837… No, I’m just kidding, but it has been a long time, and I’m excited to share a mix of music with you today!”
There was a brief pause as Alex took his seat behind the keyboard and dramatically played a glissando, opening the concert with an energetic song that whetted the audience’s palate for an incredible hour ahead!
Throughout his performance, a theme of victory in the face of suffering emerged as Alex read a passage from the book of Esther and shared how each song had impacted his life. He said, “I was born in America, but my parents came from Hungary. There’s a real tie between the Jewish people and what happened with the Hungarians because things were really intertwined at that time. So, being Hungarian, I understand from what I’ve heard from my mom of the difficulties that life can bring at times.”
In a beautiful tribute to his mama, Alex performed a piece he wrote when he was seventeen titled “A Mother’s Love is Always There.” As the melody echoed through the villa, Alex’s mother, Elizabeth, spoke on a recording about growing up during World War II and the Hungarian Revolution and moving to America in 1976. She said, “A few years [after I moved to America], I became a US citizen. The day it happened will never leave me. A feeling of home settled in, and it was at that moment that Hungary became my heritage and America my home.”
The survivors absorbed every second, listening intently and resonating with Alex’s story. Like his mother, they escaped their homeland and survived the most horrific period in history before immigrating to Israel, where they made a home, built a family, and created new memories. As he spoke, Alex showed great compassion when he encouraged, “None of us goes through life without some kind of hardship and suffering, but we know God walks with us in those times. [Wintley Phipps once said], ‘It is in the quiet crucible of your personal private suffering that your noblest dreams are born, and God’s greatest gifts are given in compensation for what you’ve been through.’”
Bozena reflected on this moment after the event as she correlated Alex’s words with the celebration of Purim. “The story of Esther is one of courage and faith,” she said. “It is an inspiring reminder of the power of prayer and strength of the Jewish people!”
Throughout his performance, Alex’s passion shone brightly; nevertheless, his final two songs were breathtaking as he poured his heart and soul into each note. As a result, the room erupted in applause and cheer! Though the survivors hadn’t heard the songs before or understood all that was said, Alex’s love, joy, and peace stirred their hearts in ways that words could never.
Once the room quieted after a haunting encore, Bozena returned to the front and confessed, “That was really unexpected. At least, I didn’t expect that. We can tell that you’re a walking talent and a gift from God for us today. I am really touched and wonder if anyone wants to share something?”
Two survivors stood to thank Alex for taking time out of the tour he was hosting to bless them. Determined to speak in English, the first survivor said, “Thank you for your music and prayers! It was amazing. Amazing!”
Agreeing with her friend, the other survivor added, “It is such an amazing and unusual gift that you gave us today. Thank you very much for this.”
Placing his hand to his heart, Alex absorbed the praise, promising to keep their words with him forever. “It was a pleasure,” he declared. “I’m so happy to be here with you all! Thank you for your words.”
After hinting about a surprise at the beginning of the event, Bozena asked her friend Hayley Russell, who used to be actively involved in the Shalom House events and is the mother of HHC’s journalist and photographer, Hannah-rose Russell, to come to the front as a delicious cake was brought out, and the room sang the “Happy Birthday” chorus. Bozena hugged her friend as she stated, “Hayley is a very special person because she gave all her energy to Hannah, who is taking pictures and is the spirit behind the written word on our Facebook. So, thank you for joining us on your birthday!”
Moving into the second half of the event, lunch, catered by Orly, was served by HHC’s team and guests. Dessert and hot drinks were also provided outside so the survivors could enjoy the perfect weather as they chatted about the concert and thanked the hosts for inviting them.
Helping Hand Coalition is so grateful to the international guests who attend the Shalom House events and bless the survivors of the Holocaust! The survivors often leave Caesarea feeling overwhelmed that so many people remember and love them and take time out of their busy tour schedules to spend the day with them! Life is short, but memories last a lifetime, and this Purim will undoubtedly be shared and remembered for a long time to come! Thank you to Lori Kate (from One Lev) for introducing us to Alex Zsolt, Alex for honoring us with a spectacular performance, Bruce Becker for patiently giving each survivor an eye test, Galena and her group for attending, Orly for catering, and the team for creating a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere!