1. You have changed the title of the book was from “Never Forgive, Never Forget” to “The Lantern and the Wave” – why did you make the change, and as the child of Holocaust survivors is this a mantra you were raised with?

“Never Forget, Never Forgive” is so basic to many Jewish people. I heard it paraphrased growing up, and I still hear Jewish people use it. I understand its origin, in a past of abuse, in persecution, in fear, but I don’t agree with it, and believe that holding on to it perpetuates vindication, self-righteousness, and victimhood. It is exclusive and speaking frankly, childish. It clouds our eyes and hearts from a larger world, in which other people suffer. Personally, if I believe this sentiment, something in me gets stuck, and would not flow onward, change, evolve. That is unnatural, and brings with it a lot of anguish. Why would anyone want to perpetuate that?  When the book first came out, some readers thought that “Never Forget, Never Forgive” was the conclusion and sentiment of the book, and missed the question “how do we go beyond it?”

2.  At what stage did you title the book? How much control did this have over the characters?

The decision of the title really crystalized as the drawing ended. When the first title came up, “Never Forget, Never Forgive” was spot on, it was the sentiment that all the characters were entrenched in, stuck in, searching for a way out. I then went back to the story and adjusted a few scenes to support these motifs, and to guide the reader through and beyond this vindictive sentiment. When I later decided about the new title of “The Lantern and the Wave” it felt vaster, all-inclusive and mythical, and was the right cord with which I wanted to end this opera and the energy with which I wanted to part from the book and send forth into the world.

3.  The subtitle- who will you forgive if not your enemy? What does this mean to you?

I loved animation when I grew up. A lot of it was, ironically, made in Japan, but I watched it most often and most surprisingly, on the Jordanian, Lebanese and Egyptian TV channels our antenna would pick up. Among the shows I watched were “The Flying House” and “Superbook” about a group of friends traveling the biblical lands, meeting Abraham, Moses and Jesus. As a Jew, Watching animated Jesus on TV, felt like treason! On one hand, I was taught that all Go’im, none-jews, wanted to kill me, they always did, right? Then I would watch these shows and Jesus, who seemed like a decent guy, looked so much like Moses, and the channels I watched were Arab – enemies! Avidly I’d listen to my father’s war stories fighting them in the Yom Kippur war! Distinctions of who was a friend and who was an enemy got blurry, they stopped making sense.

But it hits home closer than that. Forgiving my enemy is to befriend myself, first and foremost. It is my closed mind and heart, the one that negates another’s self-respect will do it to myself, subtly, in my mind. Carrying that with me everywhere, I don’t have any space for anyone else. The petty or serious grudges I hold, they are emotional and physical events I hold in my body. I feel the energy of rage and the subtle ones of shame and guilt. Do I want to keep walking around carrying them or do I want a peace of mind? When I confront my own capacity to be angry, jealous, vindictive and petty, I can understand another who feels the same… the friendly and enemy TV channels  get mixed… and because I possess good qualities too, and the wish for a happy fulfilling life, I know the “enemy” has exactly the same wish – That is what we have in common, and the place where we can actually meet.

4. As this phrase is so deeply connected to post-Holocaust thought, what made you connect this to a Japanese Feudal setting?

Feudal Japan became my fantasy never-ever land. The historical setting allowed a safe distance to work with the personal experiences of growing up in war, with grief, with lonliness, with love, and with yearning for a fundamental unity. For a while I considered to place the story in present-day Israel, and that called for a very different, more realistic treatment of the characters. This historical and cultural distance allowed me to create more mythical characters — placeholders for the readers to fill with their own.

5. What contemporary situations would you also connect this message to?

It’s all pervasive. Exclusivity, or in its extreme form of war, is in the basis of all the conflict currently happening on the planet.  No need to go as far as genocide, inequality, racism — How about that little tug in my gut that will make me fight for that empty sit on the subway and not offer it to someone else — They are all about drawing a circle in the sand around “me,” which includes what I “like”, and then protecting it from everything I “don’t like”, all while ignoring a much vaster, mysterious reality. There is only one wound, we are all bleeding from it. And if we heal it, we all heal.

6. Aren’t some things too horrible to forgive?

I remember being twelve and playing “Castle Wolfenstein” on my computer, where you infiltrate Hitler’s bunker and assassinate him. I played this game with awe and purpose! When the SS guards shouted out from the PC speaker “Halt! Papers!” I’d get chills. I later saw hacker games called where you play a Palestinian throwing stones at armed Israeli soldiers. This made me uneasy, that someone out there felt just as justified, just as righteous to play this as I played mine.  What is Forgiveness? It’s not forgetfulness or absolving a culprit from responsibility. It is a deep acceptance of the past as unchangeable that came to be due to some specific, and some unknown, conditions. It is a deep yearning to move beyond it. It is inclusive for all narratives.

Not forgiving means giving up on asking “how did this happen?” The Jewish people have a deep and intimate tie with the Germans, as we do with the Palestinians. We are bound by our shared histories. We can’t heal without them. I got the easy side of the deal. I am a descendant of holocaust survivors, and no one will dare say a word about my sense victimhood. What is happening on the other side? I want to know how it feels to be a German whose SS officer grandfather put my grandfather’s brother on a train to Auschwitz, the one who gassed his parents. I can’t imagine the anguish she feels. Is it guilt? Shame? The German needs the Jew to hear her story in order to resolve her pain, as I need hers to resolve mine. Sharing is transformative and it’s the last thing we think of in resolving disputes, when it should be the first.

7. Do you see a change in the consciousness of children and grandchildren of survivors? Do you have a right to forgive?

The question of the “right to forgive” is extremely selfish, too. How about we trade “rights” for “responsibilities?” Instead of protecting “my right to freedom” I will be responsible for your right for freedom, and you will be responsible for mine. Isn’t that a perfect system? I met several Germans of my age and had very intimate conversations, at the end of which I thanked them. I realized I could only have been living my life the way I do in thanks to the compensations my grandparents receive from the German government, that come from my German friends’ hard worked taxes. I am wholeheartedly grateful to them. They are making sincere efforts to face their past, and I am obliged to acknowledge that.

8. Is Oda based on a person or character-type? What character do you empathize with the most? See yourself in?

Oda evolved a lot through the journey of the book. He is the embodiment of repression, of contained anger, a time bomb just about to go off. He has a loving heart layered with frustration and self-deception. He cannot express his mind or heart, and responds with anger for never being understood, appreciated, and loved. The kernel of the character began with my father, but as the writing evolved, it was clear that I was expressing a specific and clear aspect of my own psychology. Each character in the book expresses a voice I hear. I learned to listen, and found that several were of disowned aspects of me that I ignored or suppressed. I externalized the voices and let them acknowledge and just be in the presence of each other, all the while I watch, learn and feel. It was extremely transformative.

9. Can you explain a bit about Manga? (Many readers, including myself are likely unfamiliar with the genre) Your book is also referred to as a Graphic Novel? How do you classify the work?

“Manga” is Japanese for “comics”. It is more visually driven than the American comics, and emphasizes moment-by-moment depiction of action and less usage of words or captions to describe it. It allows a lot of space in the mind as you read or “watch” it. I joke to people that you don’t “read” my book, you shower in it, let the stream of images wash over you. With less language moving the mind, the reader enters a much more intimate experience. Manga is a huge mainstream media in Japan, and you can find books on any subject for any ages, from cooking to golfing!

10. Did you blend styles? Why?

The scope of the project was so big, I had to simply jump in, and let my hands draw as they felt comfortable. With time, the spirit of the book shaped the style. The creative process is extremely fascinating. It is like listening to someone whisper to you a story in one ear, and I doddle it down, then ask “you mean, like this?” When I draw a character, if it hits the right note, I’ll know. If it doesn’t, the note will sound wrong, and I will redraw it until it projects the right frequency. This is all very subtle, and all about listening.

11. What effect did you intend with the peacefully boldly drawn animals? They break the flow a bit- what is their significance?

Most people’s strongest reaction to the book is through the animals, and I think that is their strength and their purpose. I heard people describe them as the enablers of the healing in the book, the silent observers. There is no conflict in the wilderness, conflict is uniquely human. Animals, trees and the land observe our odd and unnecessary tendency to create pain for ourselves and other humans, as well as the planet. In the book, animals are never depicted with humans, until the end’s resolution. It was not my intention and was done intuitively. As I read it, the inner harmony was expressed through the coming together of the animals and the humans — coming back to our real nature which is not separate from them, or from our planet, or our fellow men.

12. What connection do you have to Japan and Japanese culture? Did you live there?

I loved Japanese animation as a child; I practiced Karate, like most of my friends. For Purim I’d dress up as a ninja or a cartoon superhero. Later, I was struck by the Japanese expressive, spontaneous ink paintings and calligraphy which were something so fresh and unhindered and so different from the western art I was exposed to. I traveled in Japan for seven weeks in research for the book and to take the spirit in. I was astonished by the beauty of the land and its people, with whom I still feel an uncanny familiarity. I don’t know where it came from, but my vision of a harmonious, peaceful life takes the form in mind of the Japanese country-side. Their appreciation of the passing nature of things always resonated with me. In my travels, it was important to me to witness that in person, and at the same time to confront these idealized pre-conceptions.

13. Who was your greatest influence artistically?

My older sister, Adi. She was a fine artist in her teens, playing guitar, piano, singing, composing, paintings — these were always present at home through her, and she would have our mother’s art books scattered around. Her versatility, aspiration and fierceness inspired me, and a good part of Ryoan’s feisty character comes from her.

14. Do you write out the story line to start or do you literally start with a blank canvas?

I wrote the original draft in 2005 and put it away. After three years, in 2008, I picked it up again and some of the voices didn’t resonate with me anymore and I didn’t find them relevant to draw. So over a trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Israel, I read the first act, and then let the characters tell me the story from scratch in a flowchart. When the plane landed in Ben-Gurion airport, I had a new storyline. I paid attention to the characters throughout the drawing process, and as I was drawing, the characters would improvise and say and act outside the script. Like a film-maker on set, I’d capture that, and a lot of nuances came up this way. The characters surprised me until the very end.

15. What questions did telling this story answer for you? What message do you hope it will give to readers?

“Who would one forgive if not one’s enemy?” — There is no enemy. We are all taking part in one vast mysterious life, nothing and no one excluded. Our conceptions of one another and of the environment, any discrimination by gender, by nationality, by religion, by race, by what is man-made and what is natural, all of these hold us back from living a radically different life — the intimate, simple, and ultimately fulfilling life that we all yearn for. Can I recognize that? Who is included? Who isn’t? Are my discriminations more important than what I aspire for? Am I aware of what I aspire for? Am I aware that I have choice? Do I give it voice? Do I ask questions? Do I care?

Questions by Erica Lyons, Asian Jewish Life Journal