Hello, my name is Rami Efal. I have recently entered the role of executive director of the Zen Peacemakers, Inc., founded by Roshi Bernie Glassman and the container for his teachings, the ZP Bearing Witness retreats and the Zen Peacemaker Order — an international community of spiritual practitioners and social activists based on the ZP’s Three Tenets: Not-knowing, Bearing witness and Taking Action.
This was intended to be a letter of introduction to me and the responsibilities of my role for those who are engaged with ZP and whom I haven’t had the privilege to meet. But as I bore witness to what was alive today I decided to address my own vision in light of the wave of mourning following the killing in Orlando FL USA, surrounding our LGBTQ ZPO members, their communities and anywhere around the globe. Right of the bat, I’d encourage anyone who knows an LGBTQ person — or a Muslim, a Porto-Rican, a Latino or Latina — to reach out and ask “how are you?” Following this tragedy there are nuances of pain that my caucasian, Jewish, male-cis-gendered conditioning cannot even imagine. If you are one yourself, my heart at best glimpses yours — and hurts. Know that the Zen Peacemakers stand in solidarity with the queer, trans, lesbian, gay and bi-sexual community.
This week I was riding a taxi from Düsseldorf Airport. On the German Radio I recognized the words ‘Massacre’ and ‘Orlando.’ The driver said that everyone in Germany are shocked by the recent killing. I was surprised US news even made it across the ocean. I felt moved. When we drove into Essen, one of the most heavily bombarded and reconstructed German cities, we drove by the soccer field where the government-run Syrian refugees camp was. We passed the large white blocks, impenetrable to the eyes, and the driver pointed to tall steel cranes and said that just few days before, three bombs from World War Two were excavated in that construction site. A large perimeter was evacuated, including all unsuspecting refugees from this camp. He dropped me off at my hotel and I joined my sister, her fiancé and their three month old baby for their wedding ceremony.
This is only a sliver of Life, of this flow of mourning and celebration, of moments and narratives intertwined into a single dot, of how bombs from the past, real and implied, affect the unsuspecting living present. Other kind of bombs, buried in the construction site of one man’s mind, exploded last Sunday and killed forty-nine individuals who celebrated authenticity, choice and love.
The call of the Zen Peacemakers, to which I responded when I first walked through the gates of Auschwitz/Birkenau at the Bearing Witness retreat in 2013, was to first recognize that the construction site is not limited to a town, or to one person’s mind. If nothing is separate, it’s one helluva big construction site. How then, do I minister this world’s one wound, from which we all bleed in so many diverse ways?
This past year I followed that question, and followed Bernie Glassman, from Palestine to the Bahamas, from Bosnia to the Black Hills. Bernie’s MO and the Zen Peacemakers legacy is one of zesty action, brimming with creativity and curiosity, gravitas and playfulness, openness and attention. I have learned from Bernie to cook my life with the ingredients available. I also learned to be an ingredient myself, to acknowledge the larger system in which I exist, and the gifts of others with whom I share this soup. When I observe what members of our Zen Peacemaker Order are immersed in I feel great inspiration. Imagine what we can do, together, harnessing this Great Action, based, simply and humbly, on a caring heart and an open mind.
I have much to learn, and I am grateful for Bernie and ZP’s board of directors’ guidance and mentorship. Bernie’s stroke in January 2016 was a turning point for many of us, to Bernie himself, the Zen Peacemakers, Eve Marko his wife, even Stanley-the-Manly their Dog. I feel grateful to have been there in his support and to many of you who contributed with generosity. The stroke was also an indication of the inevitable changes in our organization from a founder-based to a vision-based organization. ZP is known for its Bearing Witness retreats and Street Plunges, and I look forward exploring additional forms of Buddhist practice and social actions that respond to the needs of now. Bernie is involved and eager to share guidance and opinions and I thank him for the dumbfounding kindness, challenges and shenanigans he has extended to me.
Few weeks ago, while surrounded by tents on a pier in Greece, a Lebanese refugee told me in simple confidence “All I want is connection.” I felt surprised because I have heard the same exact words from Joe of Pine Ridge; I heard them from Pawel of Warsaw; I heard them from Osama of Bethlehem and Boris of Sarajevo; I also heard it from my own heart and from my living sensual body; I heard it from the steel cranes and the turning dusk, from my newborn nephew’s glaring eyes, from the forty-nine individuals who danced to Love! and I also heard it, suffused by gunshots, from the man who killed them. I invite you, let’s invoke together this connection, excavate this shared construction site that is our joint life, bear witness to the nuances that build our experience and be curious of that of others, in an ever-extending perimeter, evacuating none. Lets raise the simple caring heart and mind of the mensch — and plunge.
In remembrance and gratitude,
Executive Director, Zen Peacemakers, Inc.
PS. A practice of members of the Zen Peacemaker Order is to observe a minute of silence for peace each day at noon. For the next 50 days, I will hold those who died and the one who killed, in heart.