Auschwtiz Retreat: Prologue
For 15 years, Zen Master Bernie Glassman and the Zen Peacemakers have lead multi-faith, multi-national retreats at Auschwitz in order to bear witness to the darkest parts of humanity.¬† I attended my first retreat in June 2010.¬† What follows are a series of posts chiseled from my daily journals of the experience.
Arriving to at the airport in Poland, I thought ‚Äėgee, so this is where most of my family is from.‚Äô¬† Felt weird.¬† Like I understood my connection to Poland intellectually, but didn‚Äôt feel connected to it.¬† When people learn that my mom is Argentine, they say: ‚Äúso, you‚Äôre Latino?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúWell not exactly,‚ÄĚ I explain ‚ÄúMy father is Israeli.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúSo you are Israeli?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúNot exactly.¬† My father‚Äôs parents are from Poland.¬† As far back as I know, both of my parents‚Äô families are from Eastern Europe- particularly Poland.‚ÄĚ¬† Participating in the Auschwitz retreat, I wondered: How can I remember my ancestors?
I took a nap upon arriving at the hostel in Krakow.¬† Some friends invited me for coffee.¬† I wanted to join them, but also wanted to buy some mouth wash, so I told them I would catch up.¬† It took longer than I expected.¬† While I initially felt upset that I missed them, I quickly remembered that I could make my own adventure.¬† I eased into the gentle spontaneity and openness of feeling like a traveler once again, with warm associations of my days backpacking in South America.
I wandered around and found myself headed towards Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter, longing for some connection to my roots.¬†¬† A synagogue that I had passed before was open to visit for 5 zloty that I paid to a woman at the door with a crucifix necklace.¬† I went in there and I sat.¬† Some stuff looked familiar and I heard prayers in the empty hall.¬† I imagined the old Jews praying there.¬† I imagined my father‚Äôs father, Tsvi, who was a cantor.¬† While I was in Argentina, I developed a comic script based on what I knew of his story.
In the synagogue, I felt some of that connection I was longing for.¬† Some tears fell.¬† I sat there.¬† Did some meditation on my sadness-or rather with my sadness.¬† I didn‚Äôt see it this way at the time, but after listening to Bernie, I realize that I was meditating with the ghosts.¬† Later, Bernie talked about listening to the voices at Auschwitz.¬† That‚Äôs a bit supernatural for my taste and even pretty supernatural for his usual teachings- but I know that he knows what he is talking about.¬† Does that make me a ‚Äúperson of faith?‚ÄĚ
While in the synagogue, I dozed off for a bit.¬† I had a dream that I was with my partner and she was telling me she wants kids and I felt some uncertainty.¬† Later I wondered, ‚ÄėWas God talking to me?‚Äô¬†¬† I chuckled.¬†¬†
After that, I left and stumbled upon a free walking tour of Kazimierz and the old ghetto. When we crossed to the ghetto, my tears were jerked a couple more times, both for the tragedies beset on the Jews and for the heroism of a few Poles.¬† I asked the tour guide about Warsaw, with my voice shaking and told her that is where my grandfather Tsvi is from.¬† After the tour, she asked where I was going so she could give me directions.¬† ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know.‚ÄĚ I told her.
I ended up at an Indian restaurant with some friends back in Kazimierz.¬† After food and drinks, while walking by another restaurant in Kazimierz with some other retreat participants, I said sarcastically that a bar that had ¬†Jewish paraphernalia and Jazz music made me proud to be Jewish.¬† ‚Äúyou are Jewish?,‚ÄĚ asked another participant, a middle-aged woman.¬† ‚Äúyes,‚ÄĚ I told her.¬† She said she wasn‚Äôt comfortable with the d√©cor.¬† I said ‚ÄúI‚Äôd rather be comodified than liquidated.‚ÄĚ
At that she broke out into tears.¬† I realized I messed up.¬† I took a few steps aside and another friend of ours held her.¬† I returned, apologized and told her I had been crying half the day and that was my insensitive attempt to weave between the intense darkness and an attempt to make it bearable.¬† We walked arm in arm for a few feet.¬† Looking back on it the next day, I agreed with her.¬† Using Menorahs to sell latkas made by non-Jews in Krakow is weird.¬† I felt embarrassed.
November 21, 2019