Dancing the two step with David, a 99 year old Belarusian Holocaust Survivor is not something you do every day! We had just enjoyed a lovely meal with around 15 elderly survivors, hosted by one of the many Shalom Homes supported by Helping Hand Coalition. After serving them and hearing them share, we were whisked away to another HHC assisted group. Around 50-70 aging survivors meet every week at a local community centre for their Shalom Club in Netanya, to share a simple meal, listen to music, dance, celebrate birthdays and generally enjoy being alive!
It may seem like stating the obvious, but it really is important to understand just how vital the Shalom Home project is to those who are part. We all understand the basic need for community and friendship, and those who have always had that can stride through life without really being aware of how many others simply do not fit in so easily. It may be cultural barriers, language, age or education that prevents us from being ‘one of the norm’.
For many, it is their traumatic experiences that inhibit their ability to connect and relate on even the most simple of social levels. Not having suffered intense trauma myself, I only have the stories of others to draw from in my attempt to understand the world they live in. When I place myself into their stories, into their experiences, I can only imagine what kind of terror, pain and disbelief they felt, that such things should be done by one human being to another. I put a high value on the sanctity of life, and as I grew up in our world, hearing current news stories and learning distant and recent history, I found it abhorrent that humanity could be so inhumane. And yet there is hope. There are survivors of all kinds of terror. Ones who not only keep breathing despite all odds, but keep living, learning, and above all, keep loving.
People who have suffered great trauma (of various kinds), do not always fit into regular society so well, not at least without some help. But through the Shalom Home project in Israel, an opportunity has been provided where safe communities can, and are being built. People of similar culture, language, age and most importantly, experience, have an open door to forge friendships and family with small groups and large across the country. They fit together. They understand how it is, and how it’s been. They empathise and understand each other’s thoughts and feelings, reactions and responses. There is still pain, there are still memories. But now they are accepted: by each other, and in time, also by themselves.
And that is how I found myself dancing with David - through aShalom Home. Neither of us could speak the other’s language so we didn’t talk. Indeed he was such a strong dance lead that there was no need to give verbal instruction while this spritely gentleman kept me on my toes, and many others, all evening!