Travel Report: May 2011
The month started in Auschwitz, Poland. On Monday, May 2nd, this year’s Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I was at Auschwitz to watch my very good friend Branko Lustig (who won an Oscar in 1993 for co-producing Schindler’s List) celebrating his bar mitzvah.
Branko is 78. When he was 13, the age at which his bar mitzvah would normally have been celebrated, Branko was also in Auschwitz. He managed to stay alive by escaping from the truck that was taking him to the gas chamber.
So years later, in 2011, we went back to Auschwitz and celebrated the ritual in front of Barak 24, where he was held sixty-four years ago.
Every year since 1988, survivors of the concentration camps, along with thousands of teenagers from all over the world, congregate on Yom Hashoah to remember the Holocaust dead by walking the two kilometers from the gate of Auschwitz to Birkenau, the death camp, where the gas chambers and crematoria were located. This memorial ceremony is known as the March of the Living. At Birkenau, the chief rabbi of Israel recites the Kaddish––the prayer for the dead––joined by those thousands of teenagers and dozens of survivors.
It was emotional. Yes, it was. I felt as if the souls of the million and a half Jewish people who were burned to ashes there were floating above us. The most emotional moment was when 10,000 young and old people, some in their eighties, sang the Jewish song “Hatikvah” (“The Hope”), which expresses the hope that we, the Jews, will one day have our own land in Jerusalem and find peace.
I cried. My son Topaz, who was next to me filming the event, cried, too. We could not control our emotions. To sing “Hatikvah” in Auschwitz! The lyrics still ring in my ears: “We have not lost our hope / the hope of two thousand years / to be free people in our country / the country of Zion, Jerusalem…”
I remember singing “Hatikvah” as a kid; it was the first song I learned after the war in which I lost almost all of my family to the ovens of Treblinka.
In June, I will be giving a lecture in Warsaw. Afterward, I am going to rent a car and drive to Treblinka to say the Shema Israel prayer and the Kaddish for my grandfather, my grandmother, three uncles, an aunt, my five-year-cousin Moshe, and 101 other family members who were incinerated there.
But since the bar mitzvah at Auschwitz, I have been wondering whether it is good for the soul to continue reminding ourselves of the Holocaust. “Never again!” is what drives Israeli defense and foreign policy, but the result of that constant reminder of the Holocaust’s atrocities may be an endless post-traumatic experience that continually reinforces the fear that it might be repeated.
In effect, all Israeli foreign and defense policy is based on fear. Not on hope, not on faith–on fear. And fear promotes more fear.
When will it end? How can any peace negotiations take place when fear and mistrust dominate the discussions?
From Auschwitz to Israel
From Poland I flew to Israel for one day to lecture to the top brass of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, including its managing director, its ambassadors, and its policy-makers.
Israel’s foreign relations are in a sad state of affairs; the country is ever more isolated and demonized.
How did this happen? I believe the Palestinians came to realize that they could not win a military war against Israel. But they also saw that if the whole world turned against Israel, it would have to succumb to the enormous pressure. So the Palestinian strategy is now to demonize Israel, and they are succeeding.
One of the reasons they are succeeding, I believe, is that Israel has failed to respond, and I think I know why: Israelis believe anti-Semitism is impossible to fight. “No matter what we do, anti-Semites will interpret it in a way that makes Israel look bad,” many Israelis have told me. “It is a lost cause.” Or: “What is there to explain? What is there to say? They hate us anyway, so no matter what we do our explanations will not be accepted.” This is not just street talk; it is what most leading Israelis truly believe.
Another reason Israel does not respond is a serious case of internal disintegration. The failure of those in power to reach agreement about how to respond––what to do, what to say––has translated into an inability to successfully address the concerns of other countries.
Ten Days in India
After Israel, I spent ten days in Bangalore, India, with my associate Sunil Dovedy, consulting to the Shri Ram Chandra Mission (SRCM), a non-profit spiritual organization of Sahaj Marg meditators with more than 200,000 members worldwide. I am a Sahaj Marg meditator myself, and I had decided to donate my services to help the mission become stronger and better organized.
We were there for ten days, and I learned a lot–most importantly, how meditation calms the mind so that better judgments can be made quickly. In a single afternoon, we were able to make some decisions that, in my forty years of experience, have normally taken at least ten months to decide.
It is beyond the purpose of this report to speak of the other enormous advantages meditation provides, especially using the Sahaj Marg way. But I came out of this experience totally committed to meditation.
In the history of mankind different nations made different lasting strategic contributions. The Hebrews brought monotheism. Ancient Athens-democracy. America-capitalism and a well functioning market system. I believe it is now the time for India to bring spiritualism to the world and make its contribution to civilization. Without a spiritual orientation, continuing the materialistic direction, we are destroying the world we live in. Now is the time to make the paradigm shift from more is better, to better is more and India has much to contribute to make this change happen.
From India back to Moscow
What a mess. The traffic is a disaster; Los Angeles highways are a fast track in comparison. It took two and a half hours to get from the airport to the hotel–about twenty kilometers. You move ten meters, then stand for ten minutes…
I had an equally frustrating experience in my hotel, an old Communist Party hall near Stalin’s Moscow dacha, situated in a beautiful park. It is a five-star hotel. A sign on the wall says the hotel is operated under the auspices of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. (His name is everywhere: He is the Chairman of the Board of the Academy of Economics and Skolkovo Innovation Center–and now it seems he is involved with this hotel too.)
So Medvedev’s name is on the wall and it is a five-star hotel–and yet I am freezing in my room. I call the reception desk and ask for an engineer to come fix the heating.
The reply is that the heating is not broken; it has been turned off. According to their manual, the Russian summer has started already–so no heat. Apparently, years ago some communist bureaucrat recorded in the manual the date summer officially starts, and ordered that the heat be shut off on that date. Since then, that decision has not been suspended or changed, or, perhaps, even questioned. But the weather has changed, and here I am in my room, freezing my butt. This is how bureaucracy works.
All of these experiences occurred over a three-week period. On one hand, I feel I am a lucky man to have such an interesting life; but on the other hand I am miserable because I have been away from my wife for weeks and away from my home since October.
I am hoping I can stop traveling soon, or at least cut my schedule in half.
Love to all,