Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, speaking at a memorial service for Prof. Reuven Feuerstein in Jerusalem on Monday night, said he would be honored to be president of the Feuerstein Heritage Foundation.
Feuerstein, a groundbreaking developmental psychologist and founder of the Feuerstein Institute that educates people with all types of disabilities, died on April 29, aged 92.
Wiesel addressed the crowd at the Jerusalem International Convention Center via a videotaped interview with Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, Reuven Feuerstein’s son, who will now become chairman and president of the Feuerstein Institute in Jerusalem.
“I can’t say no to a project like that,” said Wiesel. “First, it’s important. Second, it’s meaningful.”
Wiesel spoke of Prof. Feuerstein’s efforts to change the world through education, linking this work to his own experience as a Holocaust survivor.
“In times of danger, how do you save someone who needs to be saved?” Wiesel asked, saying that people who do not get the education they need are truly in danger.
His interview was just one of the highlights in a lively, diverse ceremony, hosted by television anchorwoman Sivan Rahav-Meir. Shlomo Gronich provided musical entertainment, even playing a song he wrote for the occasion.
Education Minister Shai Piron said that “Reuven’s vision should be a road map for us” at the ministry, vowing to continue the professor’s work so that “no child is left behind... We will not give up.”
Former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, also in a taped message, said, “He was one of the true greats,” and spoke of the professor’s “incredible faith in human possibilities.
“A great Reuven Feuerstein truth – a great Jewish truth, [is] if you want to change the world, do it with education,” Sacks said.
Lawyer and activist Cherie Blair, in another video, praised the professor as “one of the greatest educators of this age.”
Many spoke of the diversity of people whom Feuerstein helped, among them Holocaust survivors, immigrants from North Africa and Ethiopia and head injury victims, as well as people with all forms of developmental disabilities, including mental retardation and autism.
Rafi Feuerstein spoke of the 85 centers in more than 40 countries his father, who received the Israel Prize for social sciences in 1992, established, and talked about his father’s work with survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
Sheikh Abu Khadar Jabri of Hebron addressed the gathering in Arabic, calling Feuerstein “a man who contributed to everyone in his lifetime.”
Rahav-Meir moderated a discussion among people who had benefited from the Feuerstein method the professor developed after serving as director of psychological services of Youth Aliya in Europe: Adina Bar-Shalom, the founder of the Haredi College in Jerusalem, who turned to Feuerstein to help her educate ultra-Orthodox women; Aharon Karov, an IDF soldier who suffered a severe head injury, was treated at the Feuerstein Institute and is now attending college; and Osnat Rada and Barkia Mamoya, young women from Ethiopian families who studied using the Feuerstein method.
A film showing a badly wounded naval commander, Shlomi Dahan, detailed how the professor gave him the confidence he needed to continue trying to regain basic skills. Dahan’s mother echoed the sentiments of many parents in the audience when she said that Feuerstein “is the only one who gives us hope.”
Claude Bassou, the chairman of the board of governors of the Feuerstein Institute, who flew in from France for the service, promised continuity, insisting that institute’s work would continue.
A visibly moved Rafi Feuerstein tried to define his father’s achievement, saying, “He created an impossible combination – he put love, compassion, responsibility and morality into his system.”
Perhaps the most telling words came from Prof. Feuerstein himself. In an interview filmed not long before his death, he spoke of his total identification with the children and adults he helped.
“I see myself in them... I am not a man of peace, I will not compromise. I am a man of war. I will fight to insure that anyone who can benefit from this system will receive it,” he said.