“May God preserve your health, and may there be peace upon Israel. That’s all I want,” said M’ repeatedly. And again. Her husband and son began apologizing for the dementia that started developing since her last fall, which causes her to constantly repeat herself. But Silvard and I enjoyed hearing her sweet blessing and plea to God.
M’ is one of the holocaust survivors living in my town, Kfar Saba. After the sudden passing of Rivka Shechman, who’s story I brought up several times over the last few years (A Mourning Turned into Dance – Part 1; Staring death in the face; Yizkor the Forgotten; A Sad Goodbye; He is Always With Me), I was hoping God will connect me with other survivors. I asked for those who live in my area, so that I can connect them with the youth group and some Russian speakers at my local congregation, and expose them to more believers than just myself.
Shortly after that I received a phone call from a minister of Reach Initiative International, who works in Jerusalem. She told me about a group of 15 holocaust survivors from my town, that have turned to them for help. But they were unable to keep in touch with them and were wondering if I would be able to take it upon myself.
“Yes, give them to me,” I lifted my hands in the air in triumph and worship. “I want to meet each and every one of them.”
And so, we started visiting them. A couple of weeks ago we invited Y’ and B’, M’ and Y’, N’ and the rest of the group, and attended a small Hanukkah party that RII threw for them. The objection some of them had to us was palpable. They struggle with anything that has to do with believers in Yeshua, and so the party started out with some arguments and power struggles. But a simple prayer we mumbled under our breaths, and much patience, changed the atmosphere.
Sharing a meal with the survivors and a couple of guests from the US
Two American girls came together with the Reach Initiative International team to sing to the survivors. When these two opened their mouths, we all shut ours. Their angelic voices touched everyone’s souls.
Never before have I heard the famous Hebrew song “Jerusalem of Gold” performed this way. A few songs later the girls began singing another Hebrew song, one of my favorites. It is based on the story of Jacob, who upon returning to Canaan (Gen. 32:11-12), asked God to pour out His mercy and save him. The tune was composed by a religious Jew, a grandchild of holocaust survivors. The girls began singing, and one of them moved among the survivors, looked each one straight in the eye and patted their hands. She apparently was able to invoke long forgotten, dormant emotions in them. The effect was thrilling, touching. Eyes shining with un-shed tears, hands stretched forward, wanting to be touched as well.
The survivor sitting next to me reached his hand and asked me to keep holding it. “It is so difficult,” he said, “so very hard.” Meaning: it was hard for him to deal with the emotions that were flooding him. “But is it good?!” I asked-determined, and he just lowered his head and kept quite.
Another survivor, who was part of the power struggle at the beginning of the party, asked to speak. Everyone was quick to hush him, fearing another fight, but he insisted. “I must tell you,” he proclaimed, “that when she sang and was holding my hand, I saw the Angel of the Lord.”
That statement was my final undoing. The Angel of the Lord! He used a term so uncommon for the Jewish mind. He didn’t say he saw God, but the Angel, the Angel who is hidden from my people.
The girls started singing another song, and at that point people got out of their chairs, stood in a circle and broke out in a happy dance of Horah. Disabled, limp, hurting… but true joy filled the room.
I’m sure I will be sharing much about this group this coming year. House calls, parties, all kinds of activities I have in mind for them. But already at this point it is clear to me that alongside the touching moments, we are heading for some struggles as well. And this is where I would love to recruit your prayers:
I need much wisdom. What to say and when? How to say it? When to bring God into the picture, in a way that would not cause them to shut down or run away, but instead open up and share?
The couple of meetings we already had with the entire group took place at a local center. I so desire to move them to my congregation’s facility. Sounds simple, but not so. Some of them regard us with much suspicion. So please pray that I am able to warm their hearts, especially those of F’ and M’, the two men who seem to have a strong opinion about us, and gain their trust.
Silvard was born in Armenia. She is a member of my congregation and speaks fluent Russian, a language I need help with with this group, as most of them do not speak Hebrew. She has been joining me on all my visits, and is thrilled at the opportunity to stay in touch with them and serve them. Please keep her in your prayers as well. I would like to be able to pay her a few hours weekly, so that she can contact each of these survivors, visit with them, listen to their stories and touch their hearts.