Meeting Holocaust survivors in Israel was an experience that I will never forget. Dad, Mom, Amy Grace, and I were volunteering at Ichlu Re’im, a soup kitchen in Jerusalem, when the director came up to me and said something in Hebrew, waving his hands in an attempt to explain. Since I spoke minimal Hebrew, and he spoke even less English, an English-speaking employee translated, “He wants you and your sister to come along with him to deliver the meals to the Holocaust survivors.” I was shocked and excited. He extended the invitation to Mom, and soon we were seated in the backseat of his car and riding through the hectic streets of Jerusalem.
After arriving, we grabbed the packaged meals and hauled them up the flights of steps to a room where the Holocaust survivors were seated at tables. I was surprised to see only one man among a dozen ladies. They were all delighted to see young people, and exclaimed over Amy Grace and me as we stood there shyly listening to the Hebrew banter. I introduced myself as “Gila,” which is “joy” in Hebrew. They asked my age, and I replied in Hebrew that I was fifteen. They declared that Mom did not look old enough to be our mother.
“Ayfo ot garah? (Where do you live?)” They queried.
“Bey America (In America),” I answered, “Bey Alabama.”
“Oh! Alabama,” they told each other with heavy accents.
The soup kitchen director remembered that Amy Grace and I were pianists, and motioned toward the upright piano in the room, insisting that we play a song. Amy Grace sat down first, her fingers deftly playing by memory the beginning of “Invention Number 13,” a classical composition by Bach. They were impressed and nodded their approval, remarking to each other, “Bach! Bach!”
Next was my turn. I began to play one of the only songs I knew by memory, “River Flows in You” by Yiruma. I played along rather smoothly until the end when my fingers forgot their part and I improvised some sort of ending. I wished I could have given them a better performance, but they were a receptive audience and cheered anyway.
Presently, a lady sat down at the piano, and her fingers began to soar across the keys, playing the majestic strains of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. I recognized the patriotic tune, and reveled in the sound of the Holocaust survivors singing along heartily in Hebrew. Their faithful voices swelled on the chorus:
“So long as the heart of the Jew beats
And his eye is turned to the East
So long does our ancient hope
Of returning to Zion still live”
It was a priceless moment–a glimpse at the faith that lies within the Jewish heart. “Hatikvah” was no longer a hopeful song for these courageous souls. It was reality. They had endured the Holocaust and returned to the soil promised to their forefathers. Hatikvah was their anthem.