Remembrance and Beyond: Commemorating the Holocaust – Part 4

Monday, January 27th, got off to a bad start – a very bad start. This was the day we were due to leave Bayreuth and travel to Switzerland, for two concerts and the “grand finale” of our tour, namely, the official International Holocaust Memorial Day concert at the UN Headquarters – the Palais des Nations – in Geneva. The UN concert was scheduled for the following day, Tuesday January 28th, rather than the actual Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th – apparently, because everything is closed at the UN in Geneva on Monday. On Monday night, we would mark Holocaust Memorial Day with an a cappella concert at the Liberal Synagogue in Geneva where we first appeared 3 years ago, in 2011.

As I mentioned in my last post, twenty intrepid volunteers had already set out at 4 a.m. for what, we later learned, had been a completely unnecessary rehearsal with the orchestra in Schaffhausen. The rest of us, after a too-hasty breakfast, and an equally unnecessary rehearsal in the Zamirhalle, prepared to set out at 10 a.m. for what we believed would be a nine-hour bus ride to Geneva.

This is where things began to go wrong, from my point of view. By 10:30 a.m. luggage was still being loaded onto the bus and I decided I had time for a quick trip to the bathroom. Wary of the snow that still lay fairly thickly on the ground, I carefully navigated my way across the street to the hotel. The business accomplished, I prepared to return and take my seat on the bus. Alas.

Although I was walking quite slowly, the automatic glass doors leading from the hotel lobby onto the street were moving even more slowly. I had naturally assumed that the role of automatic doors was to open – automatically – when someone approaches them. It appears they did not agree. I walked smack into them.

Evidently, Alohomora doesn’t work for Muggles.

I stood there, dazed, for a few moments, until a member of the Tivon Choir who had witnessed the mishap came up and asked if I was alright. A member of the hotel staff arrived and offered ice to apply to my head. I said it was unnecessary and, escorted by my Tivon colleague, went out to the bus, where my friends decided that I did, after all, need to apply ice to my face and set about collecting snow from the ground and stuffing it into a plastic bag. I was then sent to sit on the bus, while they finished loading the suitcases. So you see, my little accident was not the reason for the 38 minute delay in setting off for Geneva.

I spent the first hour or so of the journey with the makeshift ice-pack clutched to my face, greatly concerned by the thought that I might develop a black eye. Ofer came and informed me that I might have to sing my “Adon Olam” solo twice that evening, as we were going to perform it both at the beginning and at the end of the concert. That was certainly an incentive to pull myself together, as he had known it would be.

Shortly after that, things began to come still further unstuck. The driver informed us that we would be arriving in Geneva at about 9 p.m. Our concert was due to start at 8.30 p.m. Apparently, whoever had made the calculations the previous day had based them on the distance between Bayreuth and Geneva and the maximum permitted speed on the autobahn, taking into account rest stops for the driver but failing to take into account the fact that, whatever the permitted maximum speed on the autobahn might be, buses were restricted to no more than 100 kph.

The next ten hours or so were punctuated by urgent phone calls between the “Management” on the bus (Ofer and the Tivon conductor, Yael), the Geneva synagogue organisers and the “delegation” which had gone ahead in the wee hours of the morning and had already reached Geneva. Every so often, we received updates as to our estimated time of arrival. Each time we gained a half hour or so, we would lose it in the next update. We thus alternated “between hope and fear”. The concert was officially postponed to 9 p.m. and the task of keeping the audience occupied was delegated to those who had left before dawn and, in particular, to our own wonderful Tamar, who had volunteered to leave at 4 a.m. and who could not rest even now, but – so we heard later – organised the audience in community singing. Fortunately, among her many other talents, Tamar speaks French.

Meanwhile, we “rehearsed” on the bus, accompanied by Ofer on the melodica.

P1020360 Singing in the bus en route for Geneva

By the time we crossed the German-Swiss border, it became clear that there wouldn’t even be time to change into our concert costumes on arriving at our destination and that we would have to change on the bus. I suggested that, since it was a double-decker bus, the men change downstairs and leave the upper deck for the ladies. Evidently, most of my colleagues had spent their formative years on a kibbutz as nobody else seemed to think this was necessary. In the end, I was one of the first to change – after ensuring that, at least, the curtains on the bus windows were drawn.

We arrived at the synagogue at about 9:20 p.m., dumped our bags in a downstairs cloakroom and rushed up to the synagogue – which I fully expected to be empty.

It was not.

And it was a very successful concert – hard as it was to sing, at first, with dry throats and tired as we were. As Ofer had hinted, I did, indeed, get to sing “Adon Olam” twice, sharing the solo, once with Margot from the Zamirchor and once with Yael, from the Tivon Chamber Choir. In both instances, I sang the last verse.

Here is the second rendition, with Yael and myself, recorded on a camera phone:

After that, “tired but happy” as they say, we boarded the bus again and set out for our hotel in Annecy, on the French side of the border, an hour and a quarter or so’s drive away. But don’t be thinking that we could then go to bed. Supper was awaiting us at the hotel and after that, some of us (not including yours truly!) repaired to the clubhouse/bar.

I went to sleep, once again, at about 1:30 a.m. Fortunately, without a black eye.

To be continued…..

About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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5 Responses to Remembrance and Beyond: Commemorating the Holocaust – Part 4

  1. Chrissie says:

    Bellissima! So very beautiful, Shimona.

  2. ShimonZ says:

    It was a moving experience to hear your rendition of adon olam and to see this video clip. Sorry about the terrible encounter with automation…

  3. Chrissie and Shimon – thank you so much.

    This particular arrangement of “Adon Olam” has always had a special significance for me, for reasons which I won’t go into here.

  4. Henri Cohen says:

    My wife and I had the privilege of attending this concert. It was beautiful. Your singing was beautiful. And many thanks to Tamar, for keeping us all interested until the performers could arrive.

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