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Lions Roar : November 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2012 43 karma has to bring you to her. Naturally, if I could, I did what she said. Germany? Wherever. What did it matter? This was about the dharma, something entirely trans- national. And anyway, I had surely grown up by now, matured in my attitude toward history. Wasn’t all human history a chronicle of tyranny, cruelty, and trauma? Sit- ting zazen was one way of facing and releasing trauma. Yet in the months, then weeks, then days before the retreat, it became clear the upcoming visit to Germany was not so simple a mat- ter after all. I started to feel afraid. I was scared of the feelings mostly: the unquenchable sorrow associ- ated with such a vast horror, and the terror, and the rage, and other feelings I couldn’t even name. And that was just me. How would the retreat participants react to having a Jew in their midst? They might prefer not to have to reflect on their national history with the Jews. They might resent my pres- ence. I hardly expected to meet rabid anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial—these were Zen students, after all—but I was apprehensive anyway. What were Germans like? I simply hadn’t known Germans. Most of all, though, I wondered if I was, merely by going there, betraying my own people. As an assimilated, non-practicing half-Jew, I had ambiva- lent feelings about “my own people.” Categorized as Jewish by non-Jews, yet excluded from the tribe by Orthodox Jews, maybe I had clung to my boycott of Germany as one issue on which we could all agree. Perhaps hatred of Germany, however understandable, was also a way for an assimilated Jew to maintain a sense of belonging to the Jewish col- lective. But the feelings around the question were all the more disturbing—all the more murky, indistinct, and confused—for being collective. Were they really my own feelings or Jews’ in general, which I had absorbed by osmosis? It was hard to separate. BUT NOW THAT I was in Germany, I was loving it. Not only did the cen- ter feel like an old Zen temple from the Golden Age of Zen, it had hosted so many retreats over the decades that the very bones of the building seemed to support our practice. In dreams and in zazen, I met a local earth entity, a dragon, called forth by our practice to help us in our surren- der to Kanzeon and the dharma. More mundanely, I was loving the food: potatoes, soups, rye bread, and applesauce. It was like Jewish food. Actually, much of it was Jewish food. I was loving the people too— not just their shared commitment to the Zen way, their deep friendliness, their emotional honesty and readi- ness to surrender self-protective versions of themselves. More than that, the men had rich, resonant voices and voluminous presences that reminded me of my father’s Jewish friends when I was a kid. The quality of their deportment, of their bodies, the sound of their voices, the sadness that was in their laughter— it all seemed Jewish. And the women laughed and wept just like Jewish women, their faces creasing up as if their mirth was soaked in sadness, and their sadness steeped in mirth. I was beginning to sense just how much Jewish culture is actually German, or vice versa. Even Yiddish is German, after all. Seven or eight hundred years of living in Germany left the two cultures inextricably entwined. If we were sworn enemies, were we also somehow siblings? It began to seem to me that a friendship, an intimate relationship, had been ruined, destroyed perhaps forever, by a frenzy of madness, a ruthless orgy of industrialized murder. Was it possible that today, now, what mattered more than the millions of mur- ders was the broken relationship and its healing? ➢ page 89 Ich bin ein halb-Jude,” I began with trepidation, hoping that somehow this could be a powerful and healing experience for everyone. “