Day One – Talmidim
Community Hall Restoration:
Ten of the fifteen people in our group were assigned to a large Community Centre. The Community Centre has played many roles in years past; it has been a school, a daycare, place of prayer and teaching. The Centre appeared to have been abandoned for some time. Walking to the Centre the first thing you saw and smelt was dust and decay. The windows that spanned both sides of the room were thick with tap upon tap and stuck on dirt. Although clear glass the light barely penetrated. The ceiling had significant water damage so much so that sections of the tile floors were stained by the water seepage. The walls looked to have been white at one time but were now brown with dirt and age. Three of the walls were decorated with murals that were somewhat primitive but held special meaning to the Community and so we were asked to paint around them. We had come to Israel with hopes of adding some color and cheer to the restoration of spots that would host children but the owners wanted the traditional white walls, ceiling and windows. We are here foremost to serve the people so we did exactly what was asked of us. To say that this was a “huge” undertaking would be putting it somewhat mildly. The water damage to the rood required hand scrapping through several layers of damage. The walls were so dirty that we needed to brush them before we could paint them and they still had numerous layers of dirt. The room was approximately 1200 square feet with close to 12-foot ceilings. The windows contained cast iron bars that were space only four to five inches apart. The bars were on the outside of the windows and by request were to be painted white. Scraping the bars we found many layers of old paint and rust. Each bar was then hand painted using white oil based paint. The tasked was matched only by the intense cleaning the windows needed. The windows had years of aged tape on them as well as other thick adhesive like substances. It took several hours and bottles of adhesive remover and Windex to get the windows to a state in which the sun would penetrate. Upon the first of our group experiencing a call of nature we were confronted with the facilities within the Centre. The facilities were hardly recognizable under layers of dirt but thanks to a devoted member of our group (Trevor) and penance for his “naughty behavior” we managed to restore the bathroom to a state that would enable use. Trevor was awarded a gold star for his efforts (Sharon painted one on his overalls”. After enjoying a pizza lunch we continued on with our efforts. Much to our surprise we had several visitors from the Community including the Vice Mayor of the Town. People from the Community came in and watched us work, took pictures and walked around in surprise of the transformation. Our contact from Helping Hands (Sebastian), told us that we were the talk of the town as when he picked up the pizza the restaurant was a “buzz” with news that an “American” group of tourists were restoring the Centre. No one could believe that we were doing this for nothing more than the happiness it brought us to do it. People from the Community assisted us in painting and started to restore the front gardens. We stopped a couple of time to pose for photos with visitors as they grabbed a broom or paint brush and pretended to be apart of the action. The day ended with the majority of the work completed with the remainder to be completed the following day.
Day of Women – Community Event (Monday Evening):
Russian tradition recognizes a holiday known as the “Women Day”. This day is set aside to celebrate women and their contributions to the lives around them. Flowers and chocolates are traditional given to women on this day. Monday evening we celebrated “Women Day” with a visit to a local Community Centre where Russian and Ukrainian Holocaust Survivors were meeting. The Centre had arranged for us to make our own flower arrangements using various flowers they had brought in. After a quick instruction on how to make an arrangement we were given flower foam and asked to create an arrangement for one of the survivors. The arrangements ranged from beautiful to “A” for effort. Some of the Survivor made arrangement as well. Upon completion we presented the arrangements to the survivors. Perhaps the best part of the evening was the personal stories that the survivors shared. Through sometimes two interrupters these ladies told their stories of growing up in the middle of World War 2. Some had lived in the ghettos; others had been shipped to Siberia and each one lost loved ones. Not to long ago these stories would not have been told, as many survivors did not talk about their experiences; however, the efforts of Helping Hands and the Community Centre survivors see the need to tell their stories so that the next generation does not forget. One survivor put it so beautifully; “ There is no future without the past or the present. What has happened before can happen again”. It was a very special evening and I know that I will never forget some of the stories the survivors told us; nor will I forget the love they showed us as they greeted each and everyone of us with ”Shalom, Shalom”. Lynda put it so well tonight in prayer when she said “the heart of stone has been made alive again with flesh and blood”. These survivors have every reason to have hearts of stone but they show so much love when they share their stories.
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