STAN ZIR'S EXPERIENCE
PAGE OF COURAGE BACK
I was born Jewish, into the horrors of racism. When I first encountered it, I was 14 years old. I was approached by a gang of older boys, called a "kike" (a racial slur against Jewish people) and threatened. Naturally, I was frightened, but worse, I was not equipped to handle such hatred. I couldn't even understand it.
Soon after that incident, I made a pledge deep in my soul that I would never permit this to happen to me again and I thought that racism is a scourge that must be banned from the earth. I now had empathy for all people who are judged by race, looks, etc. and not by their effort or character.
This single incident shaped my determination as to how I would proceed in this world. I decided I would always take people for what they were, for what they were trying to honestly achieve and to align myself with those who had been stricken with this same hatred and had lost hope and self-esteem. I vowed I would stand up against any person or group of people who would step on or look down on any other people or group.
My father was born in Russia. His father was a farmer and being Jewish, many times the government would burn their villages and kill the people because of their religion. My father was forced to learn the violin by his father so they could eventually come to the U.S. In time, he was commissioned by the great Toscanini and brought his family to this country. Life was not easy, however, for my father.
From my early teens to my late 20s, I had many experiences with different types of people through work, social life and travel. I naturally gravitated toward minority groups. But through all these experiences, I could find no single friend or teacher in any group who was not tainted by bitterness, or driven by mere personal gain or somehow fell short of the standards they set for themselves. Soon I slipped into indulgence and bad habits. Because I lived among those who had abandoned hope, I hit the very bottom. But even then I was tormented by hope. The divide, however, between hope and reality was too wide. Finally, I was introduced to True Buddhism in 1972.
At my first meeting, as soon as I chanted to the Gohonzon, my despair was lifted. For the first time in fifteen years I could take a full breath. I cannot describe the joy I had in being able to feel and smell life again. I am sure you understand.
But I still wondered, where is my teacher? Who will lead me on this new-found path? I felt I could now rebuild my life. I could fight, believing hard work and effort could bring about change. And this change could also dismantle the wall that had separated me from humanity or even better, I thought, it could dismantle the wall that separated all of humanity from itself. I determined to become a great citizen, develop myself and become successful so I could have an impact on society. But where is my teacher? Where is the army of people who would stand against such a formidable foe?
Soon after my first meeting, I met a man called David Kasahara. He was beaming with confidence. I could feel it. He talked to me straightforwardly. During that first meeting he talked all about President Ikeda about his life, his struggle. I was moved to tears. I read about his life soon after. I read the first few volumes of "The Human Revolution". For weeks, I wept inside. In a span of one month I found my great friend and teacher from the past and my Master in life, Daisaku Ikeda!
One winter night as a member of the Youth Division, I was visiting a man in prison in New Jersey. I was very cold because I had no money for a decent jacket. I read about President Ikeda's first meeting with Toda and the determination he made, and at that moment, I became warm all over. In that instant, I made my pledge. I determined I would always fight on the side of the people, especially the benighted, with no regards to my own enlightenment, no matter where this path might lead. Just to know that Nichiren Daishonin, Makiguchi, and Toda lived, gave me hope and reason to fight. From that night on, I could always see President Ikeda's footsteps in front of me. I only cared to be able to be born among these great people, lifetime after lifetime. That was enough for me.
I chanted with all my might: I must be strong. I must stand against the arrogant ones who look down at the people. I would face them without fear, in hopes they would change. If they did not, I would even risk my life fighting them if they dared to destroy this beautiful SGI mosaic of people with their cowardice, lies and self-serving attitude.
As you know, in 1976, our organization was disrupted by the priests and many evil leaders. One by one the leaders left. The organization dwindled down to a very few. I am proud to say I was one of the Youth Division who stood by the SGI from 1976 through 1981 when President Ikeda came to New York. I will never forget meeting with him, then as one of the "Justice Group TCD" members. I will never forget the struggle in those years to survive and win. Even though I fought with all my might, I can never take credit for any of it. It was because the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin and the visions for kosen rufu in our country that gave me the courage to fight.
President Ikeda's words and actions inspired me. I was literally the fly on the tail of a horse going a thousand miles. I could never let anyone slander the SGI or the teachings. I had to stand up even though most of the time I was shaking. If I was cowardly in my behavior, I could never repay or justify the right to have found this organization. Again, all I believed in was at stake.
I can honestly report that in all the time I have been a member, I have been behind the scenes. As a white man, I have traveled in the most dangerous black neighborhoods, fighting alongside people to build the kind of country that we dreamed of. This has been no easy task. I have been threatened, beaten and even stabbed over the years in the line of duty, but I am proud to say I have gained the respect of many people in the community through my effort and have been able to break down the walls of discrimination.
Where I practiced, no one says they are a victim of racism, but they are proud to stand up as new citizens to make the dream of this great country a reality. These are truly patriots who have jumped the racial divide to the sacred ground of enlightened patriots. This is my offering to the Daishonin. I am so grateful and proud to be able to achieve this victory in the name of the True Buddha. For my part, I will continue to fight anyone who uses racism as an excuse to divide the people and so consolidate their own power.
Over the years, I have served as a unit chief, group chief, district chief, chapter chief and headquarter chief. I've worked in every borough in New York. We have led the campaign for shakubuku, for World Tribune promotion, etc many times in New York. We even introduced a "unit system" where all headquarters, chapter, district leaders and hanchos were assigned to a unit where they attended their meetings and did home visitation and had monthly report meetings at the unit level where the unit chiefs reported along with their support leader about their unit. At the end of the meeting many top senior leaders were invited to give personal guidance, one on one. It was wonderful because everyone was on the front lines. We always had a warm and sincere atmosphere. There was much laughter and the members were always frank with each other. We had become great friends.