Learning from a legend

Ariel Burger details his own journey and his experiences working for Elie Wiesel in a new memoir.

By ELAINE MARGOLIN
December 6, 2018 18:41
4 minute read.
Elie Wiesel participates in a discussion on Capitol Hill in Washington, on March 2, 2015

Elie Wiesel participates in a discussion on Capitol Hill in Washington, on March 2, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/GARY CAMERON)

 
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Ariel Burger was drowning in the sadness of his own life when Elie Wiesel hired him as a teaching assistant and doctoral student at Boston University. Burger was in his 30s, married and a father of three and a rabbi and educator, and had been floundering for longer than he cared to remember. He would remain with Wiesel for many years, looking for something to liberate him from his own demons. His journey is chronicled in Burger’s new book, Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom.

Burger had a troubled childhood and found himself split between his ex-hippie father and his more observant mother, and attended ultra-Orthodox schools in Boston. He recalls having serious doubts about religious life, thinking much of it was “morally bankrupt, nothing more than a pose, but still felt reticent to abandon it.” He asked himself “How could such rich teachings fail to transform people into agents of goodness? Was it possible for a spiritual community to nurture individuality rather than conformity?” These doubts lingered.

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