April 16-24 — During the week of memorial and preparation leading up to Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 18th) and Independence Day (April 26th), an American ballet company called Ballet Magnificat! arrived in Israel with fourteen professional dancers to perform “The Hiding Place,” a story of “hope in the midst of suffering.” Based on the lives of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, the production was organized and hosted by Helping Hand Global Forum as part of the “Book of Life” project, which seeks to share the untold stories of people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Performed for more than 3,000 survivors of the Holocaust, World War II veterans, and their families in six cities — Rehovot, Jerusalem, Rishon LeZion, Netanya, Lod, and Caesarea — each event received a standing ovation and words of immense gratitude for telling this emotionally powerful story.
In 1944, as anti-Semitism reached its peak in Haarlem, Holland, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were grieved to see their friends and neighbors persecuted for their Jewish heritage. Both devout Christians, Corrie and Betsie recognized the value of human life and decided to hide Jews in a small place in their home’s walls to shield them from the Nazis and aid them in their escape. When the Nazis uncovered their scheme, Corrie and Betsie were transported to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp, where they faced unimaginable hardships. Yet, despite their suffering, the sisters clung to their faith, bringing light and hope into the darkness.
From the sudden silence that engulfed the theater as the Nazi flags were unfurled at the start of the first show in Rehovot to the thunderous applause that reverberated through the auditorium as they made their final descent during the last show in Lod, each performance was a mesmerizing experience. Ballet Magnificat! brought Corrie and Betsie’s story to life in elegant, realistic, and passionate dances that captivated the audience. The dancers performed each scene with their whole hearts, encompassing their characters as though they were living out the events firsthand. Their movements were gentle and effortless yet punched with meaning that spoke louder than words. Altogether, the production was a testament to the power of art and storytelling, leaving a lasting impact on all those who performed and witnessed it.
Cherie Pelser, who portrayed the lead Nazi in the story, expressed her emotions as she shared what it felt like to perform such a sinister character in front of the survivors. “I’ve been doing the role for a semester in America, but it wasn’t as hard because I knew I was just telling a story,” she said. “But, to actually perform it for people who have gone through that, it was very hard. I think I’ve cried at every performance. The other day, I was walking on stage in the role, and I really felt like I was two people at once, like the Lord was holding me close and keeping me separate from what could’ve been attached to that character, saying, ‘This is not who you are, but I want you to tell this story.’ So, there’s been a really special protection that could’ve only been from God. Everyone’s been so grateful, and I was surprised that people have wanted to talk to me afterward. I thought everyone would hate me, but I’ve just been in tears as people have come up to me to say thank you. It’s been such a blessing.”
Though hard to watch at times, the production elicited a great response as survivors raved about the production during the intermission and when the dancers came out to speak to attendees at the show’s end. In Rehovot, Hani, a second-generation survivor, struggled to keep up with her thoughts as she remarked, “This is something outstanding! It’s unbelievable how they can [tell a story] without words, only motions. Unbelievable!”
Alice was six years old when the Holocaust began. After watching “The Hiding Place,” she compared Corrie and Betsie’s story to her experience in the ghetto. She explained, “We could not let ourselves be succumbed by sadness, or we would be consumed by madness.” Alice continued that rather than seeing herself as a “Holocaust survivor,” she prefers to refer to herself as a “builder of Israel” — a beautiful picture to conjure as the nation prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary!
On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Helping Hand Global Forum led a ceremony before the ballet’s performance in Jerusalem. During this time, Yaakov Liberman (Chairman of the Jerusalem Association of Holocaust Survivors), Elena Zharovski (Advisor for Aliyah and Integration for Jerusalem Municipality), and Evgeny Sova (Deputy of Knesset) were invited to the stage to speak.
On behalf of the Mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, Elena Zharovski read his words to the audience. She declared, “This evening is one of grief and sorrow for our brothers and sisters who perished during the Holocaust. Six million universes perished at this time. After this catastrophe, this country was established as a sign that this tragedy should never happen again. Israel is a strong state to which the eyes of all the nations and other states are directed to see what is going on here.”
Evgeny Sova, the Deputy of the Knesset, spoke of Yad Vashem’s crucial mission to uncover the names of everyone who went through the Holocaust. He said, “I want our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to tell these stories and remember not only those who perished in the Holocaust but those here who fought for the Israeli nation!”
Yaakov Liberman echoed Evgeny Sova’s words by adding, “Dear friends, today, we not only survived the catastrophe, but we are also the living story. This day, for us, is not only a remembrance of the Holocaust but of heroism. All of us here are alive because of our mothers!”
Taking the stage to share about the “Book of Life” project, Andre Gasiorowski (Chairman of Helping Hand Global Forum) explained, “My father was four and a half years old when he was transported to a death camp in Germany. I always asked how he survived. Well, I found the answers; I found the stories; I found the people. Today, Yad Vashem has 27,000 Righteous Among the Nations, but I want to collect all the stories of the people who helped us and our parents survive! This will be deposited into the museum of the Vatican and on an online network to be read by billions in every language so no one will ever be able to say that the Holocaust didn’t happen!”
Ballet Magnificat!’s performances left many speechless as they absorbed the poignant story of love, faith, hardship, and forgiveness that Corrie and Betsie’s experience represented. However, the event in Jerusalem brought an additional layer of depth to the narrative as the performance took place under the glow of six candles to remember the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. The evening was made all the more meaningful when Alexander Dietze (Founder of Back to Zion), the grandson of a decorated Nazi veteran, was invited to share his story. As he expressed his love and gratitude towards the survivors, the room fell silent as his words left a profound impact. He said, “For those who don’t know me, me and my wife Cecilia come from Germany. We are not Jewish. My grandfather was on the other side, on the dark side, like what you saw today. When I found this out, I had only one reaction — God, what should I do with this?! And, He led us to you, the Holocaust survivors. [I want to] let you know that, like in the last scene today, you received me and my family like Corrie received the Nazi officer. You were able to somehow forgive and receive me, and I’m astounded! You are the real heroes of Israel!”
During the two weeks of Ballet Magnificat!’s performances, Luke Gasiorowski (Executive Director of Helping Hand Coalition) served as the MC, with Uliana Istaev providing translation. Municipal representatives also presented awards to Andre Gasiorowski on behalf of Helping Hand Global Forum and the dancers of Ballet Magnificat! to express their appreciation from their respective cities. Additionally, Keith and Kathy Thibodeaux, the Founders of Ballet Magnificat!, were nominated as Ambassadors to Helping Hand Global Forum.
When the dancers took their final bow each night, Cortne Robinson, who portrayed Corrie ten Boom, delivered a message on behalf of Ballet Magnificat! In her speech, she said, “The suffering you all went through was unimaginable. In our story, Corrie and Betsie risked their lives to save someone who was a part of a different people group and religion than they were. These two people are examples of real-life heroes in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people. As followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this was and is the biggest mitzvah that could ever be done for God— to save a life! Today, we are here to tell you that you are not alone in this world. Today, we, up on this stage as Christians, declare that we are your friends, we love you, and we will stand with you forever! It has been our highest honor as Ballet Magnificat!, to portray this story for you all.”
Helping Hand Global Forum extends its sincere gratitude toward Ballet Magnificat! and its founders for gifting their time to serve the survivors of the Holocaust, expressing their allegiance with the Jewish people, and dedicating their talents to share Corrie ten Boom’s story! We also want to thank each city and its municipality for working closely with us to organize these events — Karin Barginsky (Councilwoman of Rehovot); Yaakov Liberman (Chairman of Jerusalem Association of Holocaust Survivors); Dr. Larisa Stedler (Alliance of the Peoples of the World Organization in Rishon LeZion); Mila Fleitman, Mila Kornich, Rita Liberman, Galina Maeseva, and Sira Korol (Heads of Holocaust survivors and WWII veterans organizations in Netanya); and Dr. Rachel Shapiro (Head of Beit Oleh Community Center in Lod) — Jacob’s Hope (led by Michael and Judith Maurer) and the other organizations who partnered with us to bring this project to life, and the team at Global Forum!
We look forward to Ballet Magnificat! returning to Israel and blessing its people with more performances soon! May we never forget the events of the Holocaust and always remember the lesson Corrie and Betsie ten Boom’s lives teach us — “the greatest mitzvah a person can do is to save a life!”
Other attendees at the events included:
Matan Dil – City council member and candidate for mayor of Rehovot
Jacob Sandler – former mayor of Rehovot
Shuki Kromer – former CEO of the Culture Hall
Claude Grundman – Executive member of Helping Hand Global Forum
Esther de Pommery, Countess de Lambrey – Founder of Esther de Pommery Foundation, Ambassador of Helping Hand Global Forum
Dr. Alexander Berman – Executive Board Member of Global Forum and Chairman of Hazit HaKavod
Dr. Avrum Sharnopolski – Executive Board Member of Global Forum and President of Hazit HaKavod
Sam Ben Chetrit – Chairman of World Federation of Morocco Jewry
Jurij Isakowicz Kanner – Russian Jewish Congress
Lilia Ostrovskaya – Russian Jewish Congress and Head of the Israeli office
Noam Ezra – World Zionist Organization
Ephraim Bulmash – Deputy Mayor and Netanya City Council Member
Olga Laurie – General Manager of Tourism and Foreign Relations in Netanya Municipality
Yulia Elisheva Bronina – Representing the Russian Jewish Congress
Yair Ravivo – Mayor of Lod
Rafi Yekutiel – Member of Lod City Council and Deputy Mayor and Head of Beit Oleh Community Center in Lod
Eli Sar – Chairman of the Network of Community Centers (MATNASim) and Member of Lod City Council