A blog post highlighting the members of the ZCO Sangha
The Many Hats of Yehudah Winter by Terri Dudek
When Yehudah Winter, Buddhist practitioner, started to wear skull caps in the nineties, he wasn’t trying to make a fashion statement. “I thought it was important to be recognized as a Jew,” said Yehudah, age 77, who now has about two dozen hats from exotic places, like Africa, crowded on a shelf above his bed.
These days Yehudah’s connection to Judaism extends far beyond his hats. He has been a council member of P’nai Or Jewish Renewal Community in Portland for 12 years. Through this community, he and his partner, Joanie Levine, attend regular Shabbat or Sabbath services. After attending three consecutive Seders or Passover meals, he said, “We’re Sedered out.”
You would think that Yehudah’s commitment to his Jewish community would be enough, but not so for this ambitious septuagenarian. He recently achieved his goal of four consecutive Zazenkais this spring with Joanie’s partial presence. “We just felt like doing something together,” said Yehudah. “Before COVID, we traveled together, and …realized we had been missing that.” Besides Zazenkais, he and Joanie have started showing up again in person for Heart of Wisdom’s Sunday morning program, which Yehudah has attended since 2020 when a previous relationship ended. “Buddhism really saved my butt,” he said.
The path of Buddhism is far from new for Yehudah, whose zest for seeking was stoked during a 1964 camping trip in Canada with Ed Brown, author of Tassajara Cooking. That trip led to a move to Northern California and the start of a meditation practice at San Francisco Zen Center. There, the two friends followed the instructions of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. In 1968, Yehudah and Ed followed Suzuki Roshi to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, the oldest Soto Zen monastery in the United States. There, in the Los Padres National Forest, they continued their studies and held training positions. Yehudah’s practice remained strong until he got married at age 24 and moved to southern Oregon where he and his wife purchased a 40-acre organic farm. While working the earth, a passion to this day, Yehudah became a father and grown-up man with responsibilities.
Reflecting on the experiences of being a family man and monastic resident, Yehudah described his spiritual practice as more active in his daily life than on the meditation cushion. “I’ve never really felt that’s (meditation) where it’s at,” he said. “In order to function in this world, you need to be in this world.”