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Calligraphy (“Buddha and the Kingdom of Cambodia”) by Panha Seng; Sol Mang in the Jotanaram Temple in the East Bronx

The gray frame house on Marion Avenue in the East Bronx stands sandwiched in between two nearly identical white-and-yellow frame houses. A perfectly assimilated structure but for the bright, multistriped Cambodian Buddhist flag out front. The Jotanaram Temple has been a peculiar part of this solidly Hispanic neighborhood since 1985.

Once, many years ago, in its Jewish incarnation, this neighborhood was my neighborhood. The five- and six-story brick buildings that rub endlessly against one another, inflicting heinous boredom on me as a child, are still there. The Valentine Theatre, in which I saw Satyajit Ray’s The World of Apu, has gone. I find it has been replaced by Fino Men’s Wear.

Kulen Lang, rising from the computer, welcomes me to the temple. Short, compact, bifocaled, the sixty-year-old man displays the practiced heartiness of the obstinate survivor.

He leads me into a large, cold room with an altar and two gold Buddhas perched on ledges, one above the other.

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