I checked into our hotel right near Rynek Główny, the ancient and vast Main Square of Kraków. I had about an hour to settle in, change some currency, then walk to Cafe Młynek in the old Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz where I led a short and sweet Kabbalat Shabbat with my new sister, Yiddish singer Marsha Gildin.
Our training began Saturday. The Center for Council’s compassionate and wise Director Jared Seide guided us masterfully and gently into this deep and transformative practice, which has been developed by Joan Halifax, Jack Zimmerman and Gigi Coyle and others over the past two decades.
Sunday we returned to Kazimeirz for a guided walking tour of old Jewish Kraków. I led some prayers in the synagogue of the Rema. We sang Shlomo Carlebach’s Kraków Niggun at the fragment of the wall of the ghetto; it was Reb Shlomo’s twentieth yahrtzeit. Schindler’s Factory Museum drives the story home. There is so much left in the little that remains.
Buses took us to Oświęcim, the town formerly called Ushpitzin in Yiddish and Auschwitz in German, early on Monday morning. Following the first tenet of the Zen Peacemaker’s Order of Not-Knowing, I really went into there retreat having done no research, no homework. The first most surprising details: Auschwitz was much smaller that I’d imagined; Birkenau was exceedingly vast; and both sites are very busy with tour groups.
I want to urge you to register for the 2015 Bearing Witness at Auschwitz-Birkenau retreat now. I will be there as the Rabbi for the Retreat. Dozens of other spirit-holders will be there, guiding a brilliantly crafted encounter with one of the most important places in modern human history. The place is a teacher and if you have even the smallest inkling to join, I unflinchingly encourage you to go.
Going into the retreat without preconceived notions was an incredible gift. It makes me want to stop writing now, and to again encourage you to register. There are already 45 people signed-up for 2015 and the retreat will be capped at 120.