“My Unexpected Journey” by Ruth Fazal
My unexpected journey deep into the heart of God began in 1999 when an orchestral colleague of mine handed me a book, and said “I think you may want to do something with this.”
The book was called “I never Saw another Butterfly”, and even though it looked like an interesting collection of art and poetry of children from the time of the Holocaust, I could not imagine what kind of ‘something’ my friend might be thinking that I would want to do with the content. I had plenty to do in my life!
I took the book home, and as I read the poems I was very moved. All of the children were Jewish, and together with their families were forced by the Nazis to leave their homes, and were taken to the small garrison town of Terezin, in what was then Czechoslovakia. Upon arrival, they were separated from their parents and housed in rooms crowded with up to 40 children. Most of the children in Terezin arrived from Czechoslovakia, although some came from surrounding countries. Of the many thousands of Jews who passed through Terezin, about 15,000 were children. Close to 100 of those children survived
The small town of Terezin, was renamed by the Nazis-‘Theresienstadt’, and it was used as a Nazi deception to the outside world, to demonstrate how well the Jews were being treated. Of course, this was in fact a total lie, as Terezin was in reality, a ‘way-station’ to the death camps – mostly to Auschwitz.
However, with the usual resilience and love of learning of the Jewish people, as much as they were able, the adults tried to create an atmosphere of learning and culture in the ghetto, and there were many lectures, concerts and even sporting events that took place between 1941-44. So many artists, musicians, writers, scientists, scholars and educators were transported from their homes to Terezin. These adults did all that they could to create an ongoing ‘life’, especially for the children, in the midst of this seemingly hopeless situation. Children were encouraged to draw, to write, and to express their emotions through art. Several weekly publications were put together by different groups of children, and these are still available for us to read . These activities and classes were often held in secret, but under the watchful eye of the Nazi guards.
As I continued to read the poems, I slowly began to realise that this indeed was an invitation to go through a door, that would lead me on to a completely new path in my life. Clearly, God was speaking to me, and I could not ignore it.
I felt that He was asking me to take some of the children’s poems and weave them together with portions of the scriptures, to create a work that would speak of His heart in the midst of this suffering. I was touched deeply by the sense of reality and yet of hopefulness that the children wrote about in the midst of their situation. Of course, reading their poems long after they wrote them, and knowing that most of these children perished in Auschwitz added a huge sense of pathos to their hopeful words. Something was stirring on the inside of me. These were not simply children’s poems…they were the heart cry of God’s people Israel, and somehow I understood that He wanted me to bring their words to the world, and to bring God’s Word together with these poems to communicate His heart, especially to those who are willing to hear Him. I knew this was not going to be an easy task. After all, I was a violinist…not a composer! And clearly this piece was not going to be anything small.
Let me now say, I was not looking for a project! Life was full. A wife, and mother of two pre-teenage children with many activities, together with a busy life as a violinist in Toronto, as well as a worship leader beginning to travel on occasion. But, the sense of God’s calling was unmistakable, and unavoidable. I could not let it go, unless I was to ignore this feeling completely and walk away from what God was calling me to do.
I should clarify here, that I did not have a particular focus on Israel, or on the Jewish people, as some Christians that I knew. I certainly had a huge respect for the Jewish musicians who had been major influences in my life, but I really had never touched this ‘wound’ of the Holocaust that seems to run like a deep vein in the life of every Jew. I really was not in touch with that at all.
The breaking of my heart for God’s people Israel was going to be crucial as I began to answer this ‘call’ from the Lord. Little did I know that this was only the beginning, and even now, as I look back, I can see how everything that has happened since that time began with this small seed of revelation and obedience.
Speaking of ‘Obedience’; people often say that I have been so obedient to the Lord, but truly, I don’t really know how ‘obedient’ I have been. Those people don’t know about all the times when I have ignored His voice. But, I do know that by His grace, I was able to follow through with this ‘commission’ from God, and over the next two and a half years I worked tirelessly to finish what ended up being a huge work for two choirs (children, adult) 3 vocal soloists and symphony orchestra.
Feeling totally inadequate, and at times wanting to give up, by the time I had finished writing the piece,(2 years) my heart had been broken again and again, and my life was changed for ever. God had taken me as deep as it is possible for one who never experienced the Holocaust. It never ceases to amaze me how God uses every circumstance in our lives to bring about his ‘creations’ through us. Nothing is wasted; no experience, no circumstance, no pain, no joy. Everything is a tool in his hand, as we become the willing vessels for all that He wants to create through us.
The World Premiere of ‘Oratorio Terezin’ took place in Toronto in 2003, on October 31st and November 1st. The hall was packed, and the audience was full of people from the Jewish community, as well as many Christians. This was followed by a concert tour in Europe, and then in Israel in 2004/2005. On a very cold February day in 2007 it was performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City, US. Further performances took place in Hamilton and Montreal, Canada.
From December 5th 2020, please visit my YouTube channel and listen/watch the complete Oratorio Terezin, or view it in segments which will be uploaded each week for eight weeks, beginning December 5th 2020.
As an introduction to each segment, I tell some stories and anecdotes of things that happened in all our travels. Each performance has a story of its own. There were visions and fulfillment of visions, and there were amazing things that took place. I hope to be able to release something to you all that will stir many hearts, as God stirred my heart.
May we all be willing for Him to break our hearts with those things that break His heart, and may we be ready to respond to His call to pursue the journey that He longs to take each one of us on- into His heart for His people Israel. Ruth x