Posted by Marjie Sokoll
This year I was invited to teach about the holiday of Purim and sing holiday songs together with participants of Café Hakalah, a monthly gathering for Holocaust survivors sponsored by JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services. Twenty elder Holocaust survivors braved the cold winter chill to gather with others who intuitively understand their experience in our Brookline VNA office. Even though the survivors come from different countries and speak many different languages including Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish, and Polish, in the room there seemed to be no language barriers as everyone effortlessly translated for one another.
When I spoke about the Purim story and the struggles of the Jewish people living in Persia facing annihilation by the wicked Haman more than 2,000 years ago, the survivors nodded their heads in understanding; they know that feeling of vulnerability.
After nearly an hour of singing and stories, I asked if anyone wished to share any last thoughts with the group. Murmurings began in the crowd; apparently there was a singer among us. After a bit of coaxing, Manya,* the woman in the picture, slowly approached the front of the room. She looked at me and in halting English said, “I play the guitar, too.” I promptly handed her mine. Another survivor came forward to join in song with her while another came forward to translate from Russian to English - which I then translated into Hebrew!
Manya shared that she wished to sing Eli, Eli (My God, My God). She explained that she chose this moving song as it was written by the poet, Hannah Senesh, a young paratrooper trained to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Sadly, Hannah was captured and killed by the Nazis at the age of 23. She is considered a national hero in Israel, where many streets are named after her and her poetry is very popular.
We then listened in awe to the hauntingly beautiful words of the song: "Oh Lord, my God, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart. “As we celebrated the heroism of Hannah Senesh and a song filled with gratitude, we were reminded of the Purim story and the heroism of Queen Esther in saving the Jewish community of Persia. We were filled with gratitude.
After Manya finished singing, another survivor, Zalman,* asked if he might speak too. He spoke in Russian and Yiddish of his gratitude to Schechter Holocaust Services for organizing these gatherings and the joy he felt being with other survivors celebrating Purim. He added that the holiday is a time to be joyful.
Purim begins this year at sunset on Saturday, March 15. May it be, for you, one filled with gratitude and joy.
* Name changed to protect privacy.
Marjorie U. Sokoll, MEd, is the founder and director of JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections (JHC), which began in 1998. JHC helps people feel a sense of connection when facing the challenges of illness, loss, or isolation by offering spiritual and communal supports to foster hope, comfort, and wholeness guided by Jewish tradition. “It is not good for people to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). For more than five years, Marjie has also provided spiritual support for the JF&CS Parkinson’s Family Support Program. She received degrees from Boston University, Tel Aviv University School of Social Work, Northeastern University, holds a certificate of thanatology from the National Center for Death Education, is a partner at the Kalsman Institute for Judaism and Health, and integrates music into her work.