The Honduran diplomat was waiting to greet the Ballet Magnificat! dancers, "I believe you should take this Ballet to Israel," he said. The ballet had just completed the performance of "The Hiding Place" at a church theater in Honduras. The diplomat had been on assignment in Israel and believed this story of redemption and forgiveness - forged through the horror of the Holocaust - would convey a powerful message of hope to the Israeli people.

These encouraging words launched a year long journey for Ballet Magnificat! to bring their artistry, beauty and message of hope to Israel. This same Honduran diplomat had attempted to organize an itinerary for the company but after almost a year of planning, the arrangements fell through. Ballet founder and artistic director, Kathy Thibodeaux explained, "Israel is the one place we had always wanted to come. We were disappointed but we did not want to give up. I asked our tour director to keep trying. We knew 'The Hiding Place' would fit so well in Israel." (The performance is based on Corrie Ten Boom's account of how her sister Betsy and she were arrested by the Nazis and interned in a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their Haarlem apartment.)

While the director worked the phone and e-mail, four of the ballet dancers kept up a year-long prayer vigil for God to send them to Israel. Just last October they received the breakthrough they had been praying for. Within a month all the details were arranged, the money for the flights was provided for, and Ballet Magnificat! was on its way to Israel.

Simple Beginnings

Back in 1982, Kathy Thibodeaux was a ballerina with Ballet Mississippi and her husband Keith (now executive director of Ballet Magnificat!) had been a drummer with the Christian Rock band, David and the Giants. Keith challenged Kathy to use the gifts God had given her for the sake of the Kingdom. Almost as a test to see if ballet could mesh with Christian ministry, Kathy entered the 2nd International Ballet Competition, dancing to the Sandi Patti song, "We shall behold Him." The USA Ballet Competition is a prestigious international event held every 4 years. In 1978, Mikhael Baryshnikov won the men's gold medal at the event. Four years later, Kathy boldly broke with tradition, choosing music from a contemporary Christian artist.

Dancers shedding tears at the
Shavei Tsion performance
Kathy won the silver medal (she missed the gold by only .10 of a point), but more importantly, she realized that ballet could be performed at a high level in a way that could also express faith. Some 14 years later, Ballet Magnificat! took to the road for the first time with Kathy, 2 other dancers, a van and a home stereo for musical accompaniment. Fast forward to 2008; Ballet Magnificat! boasts a training program, school of the arts and two separate dance troupes travelling around the world in order to "Praise His name with dancing." (Psalm 149:3)

Challenging Subject Matter

In Evangelical circles, The Hiding Place is a famous story, but how would it play in Israel where the wounds of the Holocaust still throb? Jiri Voborosky, the choreographer who designed the Hiding Place ballet explained that he received the concept of the ballet in a vision. He was very excited to take the ballet to Israel but also a little worried over the potential impact of such sensitive subject matter. "Some people were nervous that we might cause offense. I watched the audience intently during the first performance and was very satisfied to see how they responded."

Indeed, the image of ballet dancers dressed as Nazis is a startling dissonance for any Israeli stage; the ballet company was soon to test this to the limit. Ballet Magnificat's itinerary included a performance at our Haifa congregation, Shavei Tsion. On November 13th their small sanctuary was temporarily transformed into a theater. Some 70 guests were in attendance that evening and around 40 of them were Holocaust survivors!

Because of the confines of the space, the audience was in far closer proximity to the dancers than the usual stage performance. Congregational leader, Leon Mazin, wondered how the audience and dancers would react in this emotionally charged setting. Any apprehension Leon may have felt was dissipated when he saw how the dancers and audience connected. They shed tears together during the performance - each recognizing through the other, the pain the Holocaust inflicted. Following the ballet, Hannah Nagel, a German dancer with the company asked if she could address the audience. Leon was at first a little hesitant but agreed to her request. Falling to her knees, Hannah pleaded through her tears for forgiveness on behalf of the German people. For some the pain was still too raw to receive this gracious apology but many others received Hannah's expression of love with gratitude. When I asked Leon to sum up what God did through the Hiding Place performance he replied with one word: "Magnificent!"

Making Sense of Tragedy

Ballet Magnificat! Omega Company
Two evenings later Tents of Mercy hosted the ballet at a local community center. Eitan Shiskoff purposely chose a community venue to present the ballet as a gift to the community from Tents of Mercy. Eitan explained, "I knew Ballet Magnificat! was offering a superb artistic performance that shone a redemptive light on the Jewish people's most challenging memory. I saw this as a way for us to serve the wider community of the Kryot."

Everyone in the theater that evening was gripped by the passion and the artistry of the dancers. My wife and I sat with a number of our secular Israeli friends. I wasn't sure how they would receive the message of forgiveness and redemption portrayed by the Nazi leader finding salvation through Corrie Ten Boom's testimony (the depiction in the ballet is based on actual events). As we rose to our feet to salute the performance there were our friends clapping enthusiastically in appreciation.

Ballet Magnificat! dancer at Tents of Mercy
Eitan took to the stage to address the audience. The pain of the Holocaust cannot be expunged, no matter how redemptive the outcome or artistically brilliant the performance. Here are some of Eitan's memorable words:

"The Tanakh tells us that 'Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy' but it is impossible to measure the sorrow of the Holocaust. Still our prophets speak of God giving us beauty for ashes and life instead of death. The promises of God are true forever. That we all watched this incredible performance in an Israeli theater is testimony to this fact. As it is written in Jeremiah the prophet, 'The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness - Behold I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the ends of the earth ... their souls shall be like a well watered garden, and they shall sorrow no more at all.' (Jeremiah 31:2, 8, 12) This same love depicted in the Prophets found expression through two sisters - Christians, who learned of this love for Zion from the Galilean Rabbi of Nazareth. Here is inspiration and real hope, and a hint of the days ahead of us. Radical trust in the promises of God is the door leading us into God's Kingdom."

Ballet Magnificat's time in Israel was a journey of faith from beginning to end. God providentially opened the doors for them to enthrall us with their artistry and challenge us to hope even in light of cruelty and evil. Not everyone who witnessed the performance could receive this hope but no one was left unmoved by this message of good news; heralded without words. Kathy Thibodeaux told me that after her trip to Israel she would never be the same. In kind, we have been encouraged by the beauty of their ballet and the hope of its message. With this hope we wait for the promise to come when "He will swallow up death forever ... and wipe away tears from all faces." (Isaiah 25:8)


By Martin Shoub

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Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.
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01:40 02Jan09 David -
What an amazing article! I was blessed to the point of tears. I thank God for the work He is doing through this ballet troupe. Blessings to them, and the on-going work in Israel.

14:37 06Jan09 Deborah Posey -
I am very much moved by this article. I am from Mississippi myself and to see how God can take people from all walks of life and use them to bring healing to the Israeli people lets me know that God is able to use whom He wants for what ever way He wants. I thank you for your bulldog tenacity to continue when things looked like they were not going to happen.

15:04 11Jan09 Susan St. Clair -
What diverse ways God seems to be moving in this world. We are living in exciting times and how blessed Tents of Mercy is to be part of this!

17:19 30Jan09 Mary E. Dow -
We who belong to the Lord need to be involved in all means of expression of the fine arts. Our gifts are holy and need expression to honor God, the Creator of these gifts and also to bring people in our generation to jealousy and a yearning to know the One Who calls us to beauty and holiness in our lives and walk. How better than ballet? Let's add painting, photography, writing and ... endless.

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Daniel Juster: Discipline: The Proof of Love
Redemption on the 70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht
Havatzelet: To Be With Him
Asher Intrater: John 17 Prayer