My name is Alexandria Chana Eisenberg. I am a 27 year old woman living in Port Townsend, Washington. I am a writer, dancer, landscaper, and wilderness rite-of-passage guide.
I am asking for your help in my endeavor to participate this fall in the Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp of WWII. Every year people from a diversity of faiths and backgrounds gather to bear witness to what happened there. This year I am feeling an undeniable call to join.
In conjunction with bearing witness at Auschwitz, I am planning to visit Warsaw, where several of my Jewish family members died fighting in the partisan resistance against the Nazis. I intend to visit other holocaust sites in the region as well.
The third aspect of my trip will be traveling across Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine—the homelands of my patri-lineal ancestry. In recent years I have been researching this history, piecing together my family tree, contacting distant family members, and creating a map of places where my family lived and died. Now I find myself longing to set foot on the soil of my ancestors.
Please read on for more about my goal, my story and intentions, and what I am offering back to my community.
My plan is to travel from mid-October to mid-November. In order to make this trip a reality, I am aiming to raise $3600 by October 5th. Your financial support will go toward the following:
$1600 Program Fee for Bearing Witness Retreat
$200 Tenants of Bearing Witness, Add-On Workshop
$900 Transport, Accommodation & Food
Any money I raise beyond my goal will be donated to the Zen Peacemakers scholarship fund to support high-needs participants in attending the retreat in the future, or to another cause based on the findings of my trip.
By asking you for financial support I am inviting you to be a part of this journey. Participants of the Bearing Witness Retreat are encouraged to fundraise their tuition rather than pay for it on their own. This is in part to honor the Buddhist practice of Mala (learning to receive as an act of humility), and in part to invite more people into these important conversations and the weighty task of bearing witness. As part of Mala Practice I will create a beaded necklace that will come with me on my journey. Each person who contributes to this campaign will be represented by a bead and therefore will have a physical presence everywhere I go.
Thank you in advance for your contributions!
MY STORY & INTENTIONS
In 2011 I first visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. After several hours inside I found myself sitting on the steps of the Natural History Museum sobbing to my dad on the phone. I kept asking him how something like this could have happened. There were no easy answers. The experience was shattering and life-altering. I had learned about the Holocaust in school and at home, but encountering photographs of victims and videos of people being shot, walking past piles of shoes that were found in the death camps, and seeing walls upon walls of names of people whose lives were needlessly taken from them forced me to actually begin to feel the reality of it. To continue facing this is my intention.
At that point I knew my family had been affected by the Holocaust but didn't know any details. My experience in DC and other events prompted me to dig into my family history. I pored over archives, photos, family trees, my great great grandmother's journal, oral histories from family members, preserved immigration documents, and maps of Europe, piecing together my ancestry.
I learned that 7 of my great-grandfather's siblings died in Warsaw and beyond fighting to resist the Nazi regime. Had he not immigrated to the US a few years earlier, my family line likely would have ended there. Exploring this history is an integral part of my personal growth and healing journey, and is also an attempt at reclaiming connection to my own authentic heritage and culture, which I see as a step toward decolonizing my life. This is my intention.
This exploration of my ancestry was always pointing toward a trip at some point, but it didn't feel pressing until recently. My dream landscape this past year has become largely dominated by the themes and imagery of the holocaust. When I learned of the Bearing Witness Retreat, and found aspects of it correlated closely with my dreams, I realized now is the time.
Events of recent weeks have further solidified my resolve. Nazi and KKK mentalities are showing themselves as alive and well in Charlottesville and across the nation. My desire to go to Auschwitz, to Warsaw, to Buchenwald, etc. to witness the impacts of such worldviews is only heightened by the mounting hostility of those who are taking those perspectives and enacting them in the country I call home. I want to stand on the ground where these harsh conclusions of intolerance and hatred killed millions of innocent humans. I want to witness the place where the pain of these consequences is still reverberating most strongly. I want to experience that and come back to tell you about it. I want to do so because I believe it is only in facing the shadows of humanity (and how they show up in ourselves) that we have any hope of living in the light of truth. This is my intention.
Embracing my grief has been a big part of engaging with the shadow aspects of life. I regularly attend weekend-long grief retreats and shorter grief rituals where I exploring the territory of my grief and express it. Through grief work I have discovered a direct connection to my life-force, and a more undeniable connection to all beings. I have found and witnessed profound grace and compassion from the act of surrendering to our shared vulnerability as human beings. Thus delving into grief repeatedly has sometimes led me beyond my own grief and into the deeper wells of collective grief. There I often find myself vividly and viscerally grieving the still-so-present pain of the holocaust. During one such retreat my grief for my own losses morphed seamlessly into the horrors of factory farming, and then into a profound and sustained grief around the realities of the Nazi concentration camps. This seems to be where my grief and psyche are wanting to take me next, and I intend to follow.
My grief work and guiding youth rites-of-passage are both largely about learning how to bear witness to whatever arises in the field or conversation (be it pain, suffering, and tears, or joy, ecstasy, and laughter, or anything in between) and to do so without necessarily trying to fix anything or make sense of it. I want to go to Auschwitz to bear witness in this way—to encounter what is asking to be encountered. I don't yet know what that is, but I intend to go, listen, and write like mad in order to find out. Or not find out. This is one of the tenets of Bearing Witness: not knowing, not pretending to know, and not anticipating. This way we can see what is actually true. And it is from this place of clear sight that we can respond most meaningfully and most effectively. This is my intention.
MY RETURN & COMMUNITY OFFERINGS
Although this is a trip I need to embark on alone, as my own rite-of-passage or vision quest of sorts, I understand that questing is not done solely for the individual. It is actually part of the glue of community when people in certain stages of life seek out for vision or knowledge and then return home with gifts from their discovery. And at the same time as the quest serves the community, the community is indispensable to the quest, acting as the foundation for both the preparation and integration of often very challenging experiences. This larger context creates a more robust sense of support and accountability for the person questing.
In this vein I will plan for several community events in Port Townsend area upon my return, both to be witnessed and supported in my experience, and also to offer it as a gift to the community:
1) I plan to be home in time for the Grief and Gratitude Lodge on Marrowstone Island in November in order to immediately ground my experience in my community.
2) In early December I will be the guest storyteller at First Friday Story Night at Better Living Through Coffee to share specific stories from my travels.
3) Once I am settled, I will host a larger community event in Port Townsend where I will offer an introduction to the Tenants of Bearing Witness, share more stories, images, and writing from my trip, and create a space where we can witness each other in whatever has come up over the course of this process.
4) Finally, I stand open to whatever else needs to happen in preparation for and response to this trip. I invite requests and ideas from you about what might serve our community and beyond.
Thank you for already bearing witness to my heart and soul in such a meaningful way by reading what I have shared. And thank you, profoundly, for whatever dollar amount you are able or inspired to offer in support of this journey.
I am also very grateful for any other ways you are called to support my venture including sharing this campaign with your community and contacts.
Please be in touch if you have questions, needs, or ideas!
With love and hope for all,
- Pat Eisenberg
- Ruth Baldwin
- Nora Ogilvie
- Chris Eisenberg
- Erica and Brandon Mack
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