By Elisabeth Ford
As Hannah Godonskii’s velvet soprano voice echoed through the music hall filled with tear-stained faces, she prayed for the safety of her mother and father in a tattered Ukraine. “Mom, dad, I hope you see me now,” she muttered under cries. As she brought music to the audience, she sang for her culture, for her family and with an irrefutable love for her home country.
“It’s now or never,” said Godonskii at the Concert for Peace fundraiser on March 27 at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove. The benefit concert spotlighted Ukrainian classical music and operas to raise money for United Ukrainian American Relief Committee Inc., a nonprofit focused on providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
The event featured three professional musicians: cellist Paloma Ferrante, pianist Pavel Gintov and soprano Hannah Godonskii. The music compositions consisted of both Jewish and Ukrainian pieces. In eight days, the event raised more than $30,000, three times as much as the initial fundraising goal.
Gigi Ferrante said she was inspired to organize the event after she attended her daughter’s concert for Holocaust remembrance at the Hebrew Union College in Manhattan. “I was touched,” she said, wanting to create a Holocaust remembrance concert herself, while also spotlighting Ukrainian compositions. Ukrainian “compositions also tell a story of suffering and life itself,” she said.
The concert, Ferrante said, was a “product of tireless efforts from the community getting together without [partisanship], without religion.”
Glen Cove High School offered free video coverage of the concert, streaming it on the Glen Cove School District TV channel and Vimeo for people to view from home. According to Ferrante, there were even viewers from Ukraine and the Philippines.
Community members such as Rabbi Irwin Huberman offered prayers before the musicians played. “We can build a world of compassion. We just have to get together to do it,” Huberman said, quoting Psalm 89 from the Hebrew Bible. He additionally dedicated a prayer to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center’s garden for children, explaining how “we turn to our children because we want to create a world of light through them.”
The Ukrainian pianist for the event, Pavel Gintov, said he held this concert especially close to his heart, explaining how his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.
Gintov said he “can’t wrap [his] head around” the current state of Ukraine, especially for living Holocaust survivors. “They are shooting at those who were already once shot at,” he said. As tears welled up in his eyes, he reflected on Huberman’s prayer, saying, “I have never seen so [many] children suffering as I have in the last month,” which is why the rabbi’s words touched him so deeply.
“History reminds us that we shall never let past injustices repeat themselves,” Ferrante said. The Jewish and Ukrainian music compositions, she said, tell stories “of life and suffering.” The event spotlighted Ukrainian composers such as Zoltan Almashi, Sergei Bortkiewicz and Mykola Lysenko.
“After music, life continues, and the struggle of people lives on forever,” Ferrante noted.
“At the end, everyone was crying, but happy at the same time,” she said, knowing that the sorrowful event in remembrance of the Holocaust still left the audience with a glimmer of hope for Ukraine. “This goes to show that when people get together, we can make things happen.”