Elie Wiesel, a giant of the Jewish nation passed away on Saturday aged 87. There is surely hardly anyone who hasn’t heard of the Holocaust survivor who became “the conscience of the world”, standing up for Holocaust survivors, the Jewish nation, and victims of racism and genocide worldwide. The Jerusalem Post provides a condensed bio:
Called “the world’s leading spokesman on the Holocaust” by the Nobel committee, Wiesel dedicated his life to perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust and promoting Holocaust education, as well as “to combat[ ting] indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality,” according to his foundation.
Wiesel said the fight against indifference and the concomitant attitude that “it’s no concern of mine” was a struggle for peace. “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference,” he said. “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”
Wiesel was the author of some four dozen works dealing with Judaism, the Holocaust and the moral responsibility of all people to fight hatred, racism and genocide.
But it was his first, the memoir Night (1956), which gained Wiesel fame. It tells of his experience with his father in Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, to where he was taken at age 15 from his Romanian hometown of Sighet.
[...]Dozens of obituaries and articles about Elie Wiesel have been published in the last 24 hours, too many to link to or post here. I will just link to a couple which stood out in my mind.
Wiesel was not without a sense of humor. Upon receiving the World Jewish Congress’s Theodore Herzl Award in 2013, Wiesel said: “There were two great men in Europe at that time: Herzl and Freud. Luckily they never met. Just imagine Herzl knocking on the door of Dr. Freud: ‘I had a dream.’ Freud would have said, ‘Sit down. Tell me about your mother.’”
In Tablet magazine, Menachem Rosensaft, a friend, disciple and colleague of Elie Wiesel writes a beautifully moving eulogy of his mentor and friend:
Much has been said and written, much remains to be said and written, about Elie Wiesel who, after emerging from the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, dedicated himself to perpetuating the memory of the millions of European Jews who were murdered in the Shoah. In doing so, he became the acknowledged voice of its survivors. He often said that he could not, would not speak on behalf of the dead. He did, however, speak forcefully, eloquently for the collectivity of the survivors, and they revered and loved him for it. “Accept the idea that you will never see what they have seen—and go on seeing now,” he wrote in his classic essay, “A Plea for the Survivors,” perhaps subconsciously opening a window into his own heart, “that you will never know the faces that haunt their nights, that you will never know the cries that rent their sleep. Accept the idea that you will never penetrate the cursed and spellbound universe they carry within themselves with unfailing loyalty.”But maybe it’s best to remember Elie Wiesel through his own words. Here is an excerpt from his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986:
January 1995. Elie is at Auschwitz-Birkenau. His words during the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of that death camp’s liberation are searing: “In this place of darkness and malediction we can but stand in awe and remember its stateless, faceless, and nameless victims. Close your eyes and look: Endless nocturnal processions are converging here, and here it is always night. Here heaven and earth are on fire. Close your eyes and listen. Listen to the silent screams of terrified mothers, the prayers of anguished old men and women. Listen to the tears of children, Jewish children, a beautiful little girl among them, with golden hair, whose vulnerable tenderness has never left me. Look and listen as they quietly walk towards dark flames so gigantic that the planet itself seemed in danger.” After escaping and being recaptured by the Germans, my father was tortured for months in the notorious Block 11 of the main Auschwitz camp, known as the Death Block. Days later I receive a note in the mail from Elie: “In front of Block 11 I thought—a lot, profoundly—about your father—and about all of you.”
And finally, always, there was Jerusalem. Elie was an ardent defender of and advocate for the State of Israel, but he loved Jerusalem, both the actual city and the ethereal, incorporeal concept of the place to which Jews yearned to return for almost two thousand years; the original city on a hill that provided a psychological, spiritual refuge that even the Nazis could not take away from the child he had been in a Birkenau barrack surrounded by death and desolation. Walking in Jerusalem with Elie was a timeless experience, almost like accompanying him to a place he knew intimately, but that somehow remained out of reach. “I see myself back in my town,” he wrote in A Beggar in Jerusalem, “back in my childhood. Yom Kippur. Day of fasting, of atonement. That evening one cry bursts with the same force from every heart: ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ On my right, among the men draped in their prayer shawls, there was one who did not pray. The next morning I saw him again at the entrance of he Bet Hamidrash, among the beggars and simple-minded. I offered him some change; he refused. ‘I do not need it, my child,’ he said. I asked him how he subsisted. ‘On dreams,’ he answered.”
It frightens me because I wonder: do I have the right to represent the multitudes who have perished? Do I have the right to accept this great honor on their behalf? … I do not. That would be presumptuous. No one may speak for the dead, no one may interpret their mutilated dreams and visions.
It pleases me because I may say that this honor belongs to all the survivors and their children, and through us, to the Jewish people with whose destiny I have always identified.
I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.
I remember: he asked his father: “Can this be true?” This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?
And now the boy is turning to me: “Tell me,” he asks. “What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?”
And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.
And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.
Here I want to mention two terrible terrorist attacks that took place on Thursday and Friday in Israel. You may not have heard about them in your media but Israel is in huge turmoil over these barbaric attacks.
On Thursday, Hallel Yafa Ariel, a 13 year old girl, sleeping in on the first day of the holidays, was stabbed to death in her bed in Kiryat Arba (near Hebron) by a teenage Palestinian terrorist.You can read about the attack and the uproar that ensued at the link.
Then on Friday, a Jewish family from the community of Otniel (aka they were eevil settlers) was shot down in a drive-by shooting, in an attack reminiscent of previous shootings at the same place. The father of the family, father of 10, Rabbi Michael "Miki" Mark, was killed on the spot and his wife Chava severely injured. Their two teenage children in the car at the time were also injured. You can read more about the attack at the link.
But here is the weirdest part of the whole thing:
In the most eerie coincidence – or maybe it is no coincidence at all, but part of G-d’s grand plan (I sincerely hope He has a grand plan or we are in serious trouble) here is a picture of Elie Wiesel (center) together with rabbi Michael Marc (on the left), affixing a Mezuza in Otniel Yeshiva back in 1999. Yes, that's former PM Ariel Sharon in the background.
Both men passed away within 24 hours of each other. One was murdered for being a Jew in the Land of Israel. One was almost murdered for being a Jew outside of Israel. The “crime” of both men was that they were Jews. Both lived to promote Jewish life, whether physically or spiritually, and both raised thousands of loyal disciples and students. One spread the word of Torah and one spread the justice of Judaism.
May the memory of both heroes be a blessing for all of us.