On April 24th, Ballet Magnificat! concluded their twelve-day tour across Israel with a grand finale at Helping Hand Coalition’s Caesarea headquarters. The event was attended by international guests and twenty survivors of the Holocaust from Beit Ham in Or Akiva, led by Sofia. It was a truly remarkable Shalom House that touched the hearts of all attendees and paid tribute to those no longer with us ahead of Israel’s Remembrance Day (Yom HaZikaron).
The event, which was hosted by Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski (Co-Founders of Helping Hand Coalition), began with warm greetings and special shoutouts to the esteemed guests in attendance — Countess Esther de Pommery (Founder of Esther de Pommery Foundation, Ambassador of Helping Hand Global Forum), Evgenij Belov (Russian Jewish Congress), Alexander Sitniakovskij (World Federation of Bessarabian Jews), Tamar and Raffi Taylor, Yossi and Daniela Brand, Monika Stochel Eitam, and Judith Maurer (Jacob’s Hope). Bozena also expressed her excitement as she welcomed Jola, a long-time volunteer, back to Israel!
Taking a moment to convey her gratitude to Ballet Magnificat! for their performances, Bozena stated, “I’m very grateful that the ballet team came to Israel at this specific time. We commemorated the Shoah (Holocaust), and today we commemorate the fallen soldiers before celebrating Independence Day. The team helped us go through this unique period when we experienced sorrow and the joy that Israel was established!”
When speaking of the profound impact Ballet Magnificat! had on his life, Andre grew emotional as he searched for the words to say. “What can I tell you after sitting in the audience five times?” he asked. “I remember someone telling me, ‘They’re professionals, but they are different because they don’t move like artists who work for money. They are not Jewish, yet they portray this difficult art with all their heart and soul.’ So, on behalf of the thousands who watched you, [I just want to] thank you.”
Since the Caesarea villa is too small for Ballet Magnificat!’s fourteen dancers to perform their entire production of “The Hiding Place,” based on Corrie ten Boom’s life, Andre treated attendees to a glimpse of the incredible show with video footage filmed throughout the week. The story’s raw emotion leaped out of the screen, almost as if in 3-D, as they watched the dancers bring the hardships faced in concentration camps to life. Every movement, facial expression, and cry for freedom captivated viewers until the screen faded to black.
Then, in a special performance catering to the available space, Ballet Magnificat! gifted the audience with five dances that showcased their incredible talent, hearts, and beauty. The performance began with a dance based on Corrie ten Boom’s healing after surviving Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. As the haunting melody of lament and redemption filled the room, Cortne Robinson (lead dancer) took to the stage in a striking red dress. Each assemblé, emboité, and pirouette looked effortless as Cortne glided across the floor on the tips of her toes. The grace and emotion of her performance were palpable, drawing the audience into Corrie ten Boom’s inspirational journey of “hope in the midst of suffering.”
Along with several dances from “The Hiding Place,” Ballet Magnificat! surprised attendees with a powerful preview of their other production, “Deliver Us!”, based on the story of Exodus with songs from “The Prince of Egypt.” It was one of the most moving and memorable moments of the Shalom House. As the music started, two dancers knelt on the floor with their hands clasped in a prayer for deliverance, then toward the end, more dancers joined the duo to spin, leap, and clap as the music changed from deep reflection to jubilee. Recognizing the famous Hebrew song from Exodus 15:1-18, the audience responded with cheers, celebrating how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob continues to deliver His people out of their hardest and darkest times.
“A-shir-ra I’a-do-nai ki ga-oh ga-ah” (I will sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously) ~ When You Believe (The Prince of Egypt)
At the end of Ballet Magnificat!’s performance, Andre invited the dancers to sit on the steps while the survivors were given the opportunity to speak. Sofia, the leader of Beit Ham, moved them to tears with her beautiful words. Expressing her admiration for the young ballet company and her gratitude toward Helping Hand Coalition, she said, “Dear friends, from those who survived the Holocaust, the children of the war, who have seen the horror in their young lives, but who survived many difficulties, I want to thank these amazing young people who brought us so much light, kindness, and warmth! We will remember it for many, many years. To say thank you is not enough. I cannot find enough words of gratitude, honor, or love on our part, who are not so young anymore, to these beautiful, amazing people. You gave us such happiness and joy! Andre, Bozena, Luke, and Sarah, you are our real friends. Every time we meet, you do everything for us with such kindness and warmth. You speak so understandably and close to our hearts. We thank you, our precious and close friends.”
Keith and Kathy Thibodeaux, the Founders of Ballet Magnificat!, were also invited to speak. Keith spoke with great exhalation to the survivors stating, “We are honored to be in front of you, presenting what we have as a gift to you, to Israel, to the people in our hearts, minds, and blood.” Kathy held back tears, visibly moved by Sofia’s words, as she added, “We just thank [Sofia] for her amazing words. We love you. We thank you for making us feel so very welcome here. And we look forward to coming back again soon!”
Cortne Robinson also took the opportunity to address the audience. Speaking on behalf of the ballet company, she said, “It has been an honor to perform ‘Hiding Place’ and dance for all of you. We just want to recognize that the suffering you all went through is something we have no idea or no way to relate to. We just want to thank you for your perseverance and the example that it is to not give up. I think this is something we will cherish and remember for the rest of our lives.”
In honor of Ballet Magnificat!’s work in Israel, Andre presented the company with the third edition of the book “Every Single One Was Someone.” In an eye-opening description, Andre explained, “This book is called ‘Holocaust.’ There is only one word, JEW, written six million times, and each page is 1,800 words. That is like a small village or a part of a city gone, killed during the Holocaust. This is a book of death, but we are beginning to write a book of life. The story you are telling is about Christians saving Jewish people. On the stage, there were a few people Corrie ten Boom saved, but in reality, it was over 800 souls! I understand that you have a ballet school, so this book can stay there, and whenever you train dancers for ‘The Hiding Place,’ they will see that it is about the souls not written in this book!”
Before the lunch, catered by Orly and Jola, was served, Luke Gasiorowski (Executive Director of Helping Hand Coalition) spoke a lovely closing statement. “From here, [Ballet Magnificat!] are going on an airplane to Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Poland,” he explained. “They will feel your love and energy and share your story in all those countries. So, we want to thank the Holocaust survivors for being with us today and sharing your memories with us. We also want to thank Judith Maurer for the generosity of her heart and her organization, who helped us with the resources needed to make the last twelve days possible! Her organization’s name is ‘Jacob’s Hope’, and they have definitely brought hope to the land!”
As everyone ate, they spoke animatedly about the performance they’d just witnessed. There were many hugs and expressions of thanksgiving from the survivors as the dancers interacted with them. With a final snap of the camera to capture a group photo, the survivors climbed the steps of their bus to return home after an unforgettable afternoon.
Soon after the survivors’ departure, Ballet Magnificat! boarded their own bus to head to the airport for the next leg of their international tour. Before saying goodbye, Luke sang the Aaronic blessing over the company and wished them a successful remainder of their journey.
Helping Hand Coalition and Global Forum is immensely grateful to Ballet Magnificat! for gifting over 3,000 survivors of the Holocaust, World War II veterans, and their families with their exceptional performances! We extend our deepest appreciation to Jacob’s Hope, Uliana Istaev (translator), and our team for their generous support in making these events possible. We also thank Sofia, her group from Beit Ham, and all the guests for attending this Shalom House event.
Corrie ten Boom’s story is truly an inspiration. The Holocaust claimed six million Jewish lives, but hundreds of thousands were saved by the bravery of individuals who risked their lives to stand up for what was right. As Ballet Magnificat! continues their tour and shares about their time with the survivors on the various stages they will be performing on; let us also do our part in keeping the survivors’ memories alive! Even in darkness, there is light!
Click here to see the pictures from the event