When the head of her temple announced he was going on a reconciliation journey to Auschwitz, Dee Endelman found herself saying, “‘I’ll go with you’…although at the moment I wasn’t sure why.”
The temple in question is Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji, or Plum Mountain Temple, Seattle’s Rinzai Zen Buddhist congregation. A practicing Buddhist for more than 14 years, Dee was born Catholic and says she’s been “part of a Jewish family for 40 years.”
The trip was sponsored by Zen Peacemakers (www.zenpeacemakers.org). The international and multi-faith group of 95 included a gentile Polish woman who had been a child prisoner, and two Palestinians involved in peace work. They learned about Nazi atrocities, held meaningful dialogues, then gathered at the tracks each day to read victims’ names aloud and meditate. At a special ceremony on the last day, yahrzeit candles were lit.
The trip began in Cracow, Poland, with a vegetarian Shabbat dinner and service that included young people from the local Jewish community, part of “a small revival of Judaism,” there, says Dee. Over the weekend they toured the Jewish quarter and ghetto, and on Monday bused to Oświęcim, the town outside of Auschwitz, where they stayed.
Her first day in Auschwitz, Dee viewed the museum there with its display of human hair and discarded glasses. Describing it to me, she began to cry, although says at the time, “I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t feel anything.” It was the visit to the women’s barracks later that week “that really cracked my heart open” as participants imagined the normal life activities those prisoners were denied.
“You really begin to feel the human suffering that occurred there,” Dee says, calling her grief “a blessing on so many levels… [It brings] a little deeper understanding...both in order to honor the dead and to understand what it means for today,” and influencing, “how I have to live now.”
Zen Peacemakers, founded by Bernie Glassman, encourages “practice and action for personal and social transformation,” according to its website.
“Before I left,” Dee says, “I didn’t want to put myself in the spotlight,” but is now ready to share her experience as “part of the loving action that arises from bearing witness to suffering.”
Asked her opinion of the “Jew-Bu” phenomenon — the many Jews drawn to Buddhism — Dee says Buddhism draws adherents from many Western religions, which often create “a spiritual hunger,” but fail to feed it. Buddhism is “not an exclusive religion,” she notes, so it could be “compatible…to recite the Shema and go sit Zazen (meditate).
“There is a contemplative practice in almost every religion…I don’t see any reason why contemplative practice and Judaism wouldn’t work.” Although, she jokes, “in Buddhism you’re not supposed to be attached to your opinions.”
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He might have just bought The Fearey Group (www.feareygroup.com) — one of the leading independent public relations and public affairs firms in the Pacific Northwest — but Aaron Blank is equally dedicated to being the dad of three.
Aaron grew up in Holbrook, on New York’s Long Island. His mother is Israeli, so “I’m first generation,” on her side, he notes. It also meant he got to have two Bar Mitzvahs, one at his synagogue and a second at the Western Wall.
At Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., Aaron met “my girlfriend, now wife,” Mercer Island High School alumnus Lacey Yantis. He was a reporter for CBS radio when the two came to Seattle for a 10-day August trip, which featured “unbelievable weather,” and eventually returned to settle. An employee of The Fearey Group since 2006, he became an expert in healthcare communications who worked on the launch of the Allen Institute of Brain Science.
Aaron has two daughters, 7 and 4, and a 1-year-old son recently adopted from Ethiopia. The adoption led to additional work with Children’s HopeChest, raising money to support basic needs for 150 other children in Wolisso, Ethiopia, where their son was born.
“We are also doing some foundational support there,” around clean water and toilets, he told me (www.hopechest.org/community/woliso/sponsor).
The whole family visited Wolisso in April.
“My life is forever changed…[by] what we saw,” says Aaron. “It’s mind boggling” that simple things like water are unavailable. He adds it was important that his kids be “aware that there is a larger reason for us [to be] here.”
Aaron admits to a lack of activity in the local Jewish community, but looks forward to adding that to his family’s activities, which includes being “huge football fans” and attending local sports events. Members of YMCA’s Adventure Guides, they do a lot of outdoor activities, and January will find Aaron camping in the snow with his daughters.