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UN Address

United Nations Address by Judith Garten

Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide – 11th Anniversary 

Trusteeship Council Chamber, United Nations, NY   April 7, 2005



    Your Excellency Mr. Stanislaus Kamanzi, my dear friend Immaculee Ilibagiza, Rick Olfik, Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, and you brave and steadfast foot soldiers for peace.   I salute you.  I salute you for your courage, your determination, and for your everyday, often tedious efforts to keep the dream of the United Nations alive.  I am privileged to stand before you.  I offer you a low bow.

    I stand here today with a rush of emotions. To be here on this day, commemorating a time when so many of our brothers and sisters were killed and maimed and scarred for life, is to be here with unfathomable sorrow.   And at the same time our hearts are heavy, I notice in my heart another feeling I would like to tell you about today…it is one of gratitude and hope…gratitude and hope for the wave of affection that runs through everything in our world.

    I myself was a recipient of the suffering that took place during the Holocaust that brought terror to Europe. My story took place after the war, where both my mother, Gabriela Weisz and my father, Conrad Feldman, who had been interned in a Nazi Concentration Camp and who miraculously survived, later met, married and gave birth to me in a Displaced Person’s Camp in Linz, Austria in the year 1948.  Of course, life in the camps was troublesome and tedious. I grew up and was nourished by the shock and pain of those who remained.  The psychic climate was one of depression, chaos and fear mingled with rays of hope for new life awaiting somewhere far from there.

    My mother, who was weak and run down, died when I was but two.  I am not sure what happened to my father.  I know he was distraught from my mother’s death and the inability to work.  After a stint in yet another camp, he decided to give me up for adoption.  So at age three I entered an orphanage with a little over 100 children.

But here comes the wave of affection running through this unhappy state: UNICEF sends milk for my tiny body to grow, Jewish Agencies send packages and actually give inmates respites from a life of weary waiting.  We waited for the kindness of strangers.  And some waited for a very long time.  But eventually it came.  It came for me at age four when an American Jewish family, William and Rosalie Garten and their six year old daughter Margie adopted me.  It was their kindness to welcome a stranger that gave me all the opportunities that America offered.  And there were many.

    Obviously such a beginning haunts and inspires and gets one to question, Why?  Why this suffering?  How do people treat each other in these unimaginable ways when we consciously know better?  My suffering started me on a quest to know who I was really and to understand the world’s people.  I was led on a marvelous journey of exploration which still goes on today…to find my real home and my true identity.  What I can tell you exists not outside me with a name, an address and phone number, but lives within me, in the core of my being, where I am inextricably connected to you and where this great wave of affection begins but never ends.

    Now let me speed up to last year at this time.

    It was last April 7th to the day, that I was standing in my living room in Upstate, NY.  I was listening to my local Public Radio station and heard that Vassar College was hosting a panel such as this to commemorate the Rwandan genocide.  They said there would be genocide speakers who would tell their stories.  I can remember that moment vividly.  I stood so still and felt a prompting so deep that I knew I had to go.  It just arose out of this stillness.  I had to be a witness for these survivors and their pain.  I wanted to look directly into their eyes and hear their story.  So off I went…and that wonderful wave brought me to Immaculee…which is bringing me to Rwanda this summer to help the forgotten orphans.  The circle is coming back around now. Now, the wave is bringing me to you.  You see how powerful this is? 


     I have come to tell you some things I have learned:  We are all really displaced until we find our deepest spiritual connection.  And by spiritual, I don’t mean religious.  Although for some, religion takes them to this center.  This center, this core of your being, is most wise, loving and alive.  It cannot be defeated or moved by the winds of change.  It remains unflagging in its purpose and its love.  It knows it is connected to all things and to all people.  Knowing its existence ends homesickness, which, as far as I can see, we all suffer from in one form or another.


    The second thing I learned is that we are both good and bad. We have our greatness and our faults, our beauty as well as our blemish.  If we do not acknowledge this fact, if we do not accept ourselves in this our humanity, we will continue to perpetuate holocausts and genocides everyday.  If not in large ways then in small everyday slights we hand our neighbors, our office mates, even our friends and family.


    It is one of the laws that govern the psyche that if we do not allow ourselves to be conscious of what is in us and rather repress what we fear and do not like about ourselves, then we will be doomed to project our shadow onto the other.  We do this because of a simple misconception that is also unconscious in us---and that is---in our childish consciousness, we think we are 100% bad.  All bad.  So now we project onto the other that they are all bad and we say we are all good.  Hence purification is now about the need to cleanse ourselves of the other – “the rats” “the cockroaches.”  We push them into the fire of the ovens of Auschwitz, instead of the inner purifying fires of truth of self-facing.  If we make peace between the best and the worst in us we will automatically extend kindness and peace towards others.


    The other principle humanity must learn is the value of experiencing all one’s feelings in a safe, constructive, manner.  Agonizing pain, absolute helplessness, and rage are stored in all of us --- but once we muster the courage to face and travel through this pain --- we can have a new life that leads to pleasure, joy and love.  I have seen this again and again in my life and in the life of my clients and students.  Think about this, “evil is just a defense against pain.”  We need to learn how to be undefended.


    Would you be willing to try this exercise to feel the reality of my words?  


    Close your eyes and put your hands on your thighs, palms up.  Now think of a trait in you that you cherish, that is beautiful.  It could be something like, kindness, enthusiasm, humor, etc.  Place this trait in one of the palms of your hands and feel the weight of it as it sits there.  Now in the other hand, place a fault or a weakness you have, something that you don’t find very attractive.  It could be envy, cruelty or stubbornness, etc.  Let yourself feel the weight of that now.  Keeping your eyes closed, send the thought into your being that you wish to accept both of these aspects equally.  When you feel this thought has taken some root bring your hands in prayer pose right before your heart and state the intention again to accept all of yourself, your greatness and your weakness.  And now let your hands make a gesture that shows how you would move out into life if you accepted all of yourself.  When you are ready open your eyes and look around.  See the people seating next to you.  See these gorgeous creatures, these humans with their beauty and their blemish and experience how undefended you feel.  This is truly what is possible.


    I invite all of you, I encourage each of you to learn to see and ride this great wave of affection and to consciously choose to continue to offer your lives as a blessing for humanity.

Thank you.

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