Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bearing Witness to what exactly

I actually didn't know that Bernie Glassman is still alive. But he is. Here's a talk entitled "Bearing Witness", on returning to Auschitz-Birkenau year after year.
The famous prayer about oneness, the Sh'ma Yisrael, begins with Listen: Listen, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Not only does oneness begin with listening, listening begins with oneness. And Zen Peacemaker Order's Buddhist service begins similarly: Attention! Attention! Raising the Mind of Compassion, the Supreme Meal is offered to all the hungry spirits throughout space and time, filling the smallest particle to the largest space.

Listen! Attention! Bear witness!

It can't happen if you want to stay away from pain and suffering. It probably won't happen if, like most people, you go to Auschwitz, look over the exhibits, and return to the buses for a quick getaway. When you come to Auschwitz, stay a while, and begin to listen to all the voices of that terrible universe -- the voices that are none other than you -- then something happens.
It's an interesting contrast to Jamie Kastner's Kike Like Me. There's more to the film, which I may return to, but one of the most controversial aspects is his trip to Aushwitz. After seeing German memorials to dead Jews that are resented by the local Jewish community, Polish restaurants with Jewish themes but no Jews, and synagogues staffed by gentiles that serve as museums, Kastner is not in the same frame of mind as Glassman. Not to mention, antisemitic Ajax fans with Magen David tattoos and everthing else he sees in Europe. He wants something more than a memorial. And he's right.

But so is Glassman:
During our 1996 retreat, a man of Jewish descent living in Denmark stood up one evening and spoke about forgiving those who had perpetrated cruelties at Auschwitz. A short while later I stood up and suggested: "And then what? So you forgive, and then what? Is that the end of it? Or is there something else to be done?"
Glassman offers something of an answer. It seems awkward, at first, since he takes a lot of responsibility onto himself, but he takes responsibility for the only thing he can. And offers himself as a teacher.

1 comment:

G531 said...

This entry leaves a lot of food for thought. I especially appreciated,
"Not only does oneness begin with listening, listening begins with oneness." Something often forgotten when visiting historical sites in which so much persecution took place. Glassman's talk speaks to the humility of inheriting histories of oppression, resistance yet still informed of in/direct privilege somehow coming as a result, that negotiation that is taking place. That 'good' and 'evil' exist in us simultaneously, consciousness of that he suggests, from what I gathered, can inspire action that seeks to challenge it, that it not happen again.