Remembering Elie Wiesel
To Elie every life was valuable, and every individual endowed with infinite worth. He enjoined us to speak out on behalf of the world’s victims and to hold those in power accountable for mass atrocities that go unaddressed. Where others saw difference he saw humanity’s common thread. Where others sowed division he orchestrated disparate parts into a more beautiful whole. He saw in every stranger an equal spark of the divine as he personified the Biblical imperative of loving our fellow man as ourselves.
For Elie, human evil festered in a climate of forgetfulness. Too often humanity overlooked its oneness. For Elie remembering was the key. “In the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.” Elie was a haunting figure who reminded us through brutally honest prose that we can never forget the core values of our civilization.
Responding to the Call of Elie Wiesel
The world is a colder and less intelligent place without Elie Wiesel. His dignity, stature and wisdom will be sorely missed. RIP wise, wise, man.
Long before he became the world famous, Nobel laureate, Wiesel was the first voice we heard willing to speak about the Holocaust in all its horror and complexity, using gripping language to make real the unfathomable. He was courageous and unusual. He shook my world.
This was before a Holocaust museum was built on federal land in the heart of the nation’s capital; before monuments appeared in every city with a bagel shop; before the docu-dramas and films and plays; before school children were routinely exposed to a Holocaust curriculum; before survivors had ceased to be embarrassed to show their tattoos; before survivors felt empowered and compelled to speak of their experiences.
Wiesel set himself one task, at once impossible and categorical: to become the living tomb, the cenotaph, of the beggars of Sighet, of the comically clumsy ghetto Hasidim, and of the countless campmates who had, in the face of God’s silence, chanted the Kaddish for their own passing. For this, he had only his tongue, and not even his native tongue, but the French that he learned in an orphanage for deported children at age 15 – and later turned into his violin. Without Wiesel, there would have remained no trace of countless lives reduced to ash and smoke.
Bernard-Henri Lévy, from The Humble Nobility of Elie Wiesel
He was, as he liked to say, a wandering maggid going from community to community, from venue to venue, from synagogues and universities, gatherings, demonstrations and conferences, national capitals and political forums speaking to an ever changing global audience. His message was: Remember the Holocaust; remembrance must shape our character and has the capacity to transform the future.
He was both a witness to and a survivor of one of the greatest evils that humanity has ever wrought upon it, but he never used those experiences to project anger, hatred, or negativity. Instead, he took his talents for words and for human compassion to teach the world a lesson that we must never forget. It is our responsibility as individuals to embody traits and values that ensure the continuation of humanity rather than the destruction of it. It is our job as citizens of our respective nations to be a light unto the darkness rather than being an additional shroud.
"There comes a moment when you feel maybe this is the last time that I think the way I do, the last time I see people, the last time I will see my son or my wife. And therefore, you have to prepare yourself. Even after the war, a few months after I came to New York, a taxi ran over me in Times Square, and it was a miracle that I survived. That said, the Jew must prepare himself because death could happen that day. Every morning when we get up is a prayer of gratitude. Thank God for being awake, for having survived my sleep. The fact is, to die is something we all have in common. We still are looking for someone who knows the secret of immortality. Only God is immortal; we are not. The Hasidic masters prepare themselves every day: What if I die tomorrow? What if this is my last prayer? With what am I going to present myself to God before the celestial tribunal where I shall appear afterwards?"
The passing of our teacher Elie Wiesel serves as an extra reminder for me that the goal is not religiosity but for whatever religiosity we have to translate into consistently acting upon the deepest recesses of our moral conscience.
What I learned through Wiesel was a toughness of spirit I was not used to finding in religious writing, a toughness of spirit I found useful as I struggled to learn how to deal with the suffering that had been inflicted on me by a white society that elevated itself at the expense of those of us who were not white.
Wiesel eschewed love and forgiveness as well as hate and revenge: “Do not be more just than necessary. An excess of charity may be sinful….misplaced pity is potentially no less dangerous than unwarranted cruelty.”
Such a formulation was refreshing - not to be more just “than necessary.” Be just, but struggle to find to what degree of justice is sufficient. To do more could be cruel.
“There is a time to love and a time to hate; whoever does not hate when he should does not deserve to love when he should, does not deserve to love when he is able.” (From LEGENDS OF OUR TIME)
I never met you in person, but you were my teacher.
I never heard you speak in public, but your wisdom is part and parcel of my fiber.
I didn’t go to your funeral, but I mourn you, nevertheless...
I didn’t know you, but your voice helped lend me some of the most important wisdom I have gained in the cycle of my life.
I will continue to live up to and teach your lessons.
There is no doubt that Elie Wiesel was an exceptional writer and teacher. Yet, beyond all else, Elie Wiesel was a true leader. Especially given the fact that we are living at a time when almost every current and prospective leader of the western world lack the basic qualities of wisdom, integrity and humanity, Elie Wiesel’s passing is all the more felt.
One of my treasured books in my library is Elie Weisel’s ‘Five Biblical Portraits’, which includes a stunning description by Weisel of the events surrounding the ascent of Elijah and his parting words to his disciple Elisha:
“If you see me go away, if you know how to look, how to participate in all events, if you know how to face pain and despair and go beyond them, and if later you will be capable of telling about them, your wish will be granted: you will have my powers and yours as well. And you will need them. I am your master but you are the survivor…You will tell people what you have seen, what you have lived – and what I have seen and endured – and you will tell of my departure.. and yet, the fire that will carry me away will not stay with me; it will stay with you. Forever.”
Today we are all Elisha, and our future will depend on whether we harness all we have learnt from our master.
I feel a sudden disturbance in the force, as if six million voices cried out and were silenced. But it wasn't six million. It was the voice of one that spoke for those six million. Now we cry, because absent this giant's voice, evil is sounding its call louder than ever.
Simcha Elazar Jessel
He shared tales laden with symbolism and meaning: of poor peddlers who were seeking riches and ordinary people who craved holiness and the Divine. Tales of people whose lives were steeped in learning, whose good deeds enabled the world to continue on its course...he was a link to something precious that was nearly lost: a tradition and wisdom that seemed completely lacking in the world as I knew it. He spoke passionately about the Holocaust, about seeking meaning in life, about the moral issues of the day. Elie Wiesel challenged us to be better and to do more.
Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Even as Elie Wiesel has left this world, he continues to be an important teacher of mine. As many people as wanted a moment of his, when he was with you, he was right there in that moment. I will never forget his soft-spoken power, his deep seeing, and the way in which he soothed the pain of the world. He helped humanity to see our ugly spots with unwavering faith in our ability to improve and change. Indifference was his enemy. Elie Wiesel will be missed; may his memory be always for a blessing.
Elyssa Joy Austerklein
The loss of Elie Wiesel is a blow to memory and caring commemoration of the Holocaust. Though he took a writer's liberties with his story in the 50s, crafting his memoir Night to fit the reigning existential philosophical currents and to appeal masterly to a French audience, he hewed closely to the facts of experience and and invested the volume with remarkable artistry. These features help to explain its power and longevity.
Elie Weisel spent a life time trying to teach humanity that the Holocaust, genocide, race hatred, anti-semitism and persecution must be recognized and fought. Maybe G-d brought him to heaven just now, so the world would not break his heart!
With the death of Elie Wiesel we have lost the last of the giants who unified our nation, stood for justice, defined our people, and reminded us of who we are. Who is like them today? We have lost the last of our leaders, and must pray for guidance and wisdom from our maker in heaven.
He challenged us to judge ourselves and see that against us stood purveyors of false pieties who called themselves successors of man. His conscience called us to reject those pieties and to realize that the work of their destruction would put an end to mankind’s transcendent yearning for redemptive change and with it the end of morality in the human condition.
Our duty to his life is to continue to bear testament to the venomous fury that nearly snuffed it out. A venomous fury that scorched the earth and miraculously flung this one brave ember back upon humanity so that its spark could rise to a flame that might still light the path to our own redemption. For mankind has not crossed the Jordan. Not even close.
We have a duty to continue his work and ensure evil never triumphs, for in that surety rests our only claim to the restitution of our birthright as civilized people. As we continue our work for the victory of universal commonality over narcissistic particularity we need to remember the lesson of the Shoah.
Not all the victims were Jews. But all Jews were victims. Elie Wiesel challenged us - every day and in every way - to make sure that "Never Again" meant more than just empty words. Yitgadal veyitkadash, shmay rabba.
Without Elie Wiesel in the world, it is up to every one of us now to stand up to the deniers. With his passing, we will all have to work a little harder because we will no longer have Elie to remind us of what happens when the world is silent and indifferent to evil. It is now our job, and that of our children and grandchildren, to pick up the baton and to relay Elie’s message of hope and peace to the world.
World Jewish Congress
Elie Wiesel didn’t just tell the past. He reminded everyone that the past bears upon the future.
Israel Arbeiter, survivor
Hearing Wiesel speak was like listening to the whisper of eternity. His voice had a haunting magic, speaking words that were wrung from the suffering of his own soul, and his indelible witness to the sufferings of others.
Elie Wiesel, your story has haunted and your words have empowered. You gave new meaning to the notion of a strong Jew, a fighting Jew, a Jew who refuses to allow anyone to dictate his fate for him. You gave life to one of the deadliest moments in our history, and you made the words 'Never Again' mean something. Baruch Dayan Emet.
And now God must answer to Elie Wiesel. Do not rest in peace, give God no peace until redemption comes.
With Wiesel now gone, few stand guard over the voiceless; even fewer possess the quiet power to answer the call. And is there anyone left to listen?
His stories that entered my soul
His smile that filled my heart.
His soft gentle voice, his passion, his laugh
His wisdom that shall forever guide my path.
Who am I sitting with today, Professor? Is Young Eliezer with us? What secrets does he want to share? I will be his messenger and yours...
There is not a single moment with you that I shall ever forget. It has been a blessing that I shall continue to pass on to future generations.
To my teacher, whose soul is eternally intertwined with mine. Because even though the days pass, the pain in my heart remains. Your name resounds throughout the world right now, Professor, but with me it is your voice and message that shall remain my mission.
Elie Wiesel - your spirit shall live on forever…