I spent my life loving Elie Wiesel and had the honor and pleasure of knowing him, learning from him and working with him.
I was a tiny, junior partner in some of his work combating threats to the Jewish people and promoting anti-genocide education. I now have the equally great honor and pleasure of being a close friend of his wife Marion, and his son Elisha and daughter-in-law Lynn.
Almost thirty years ago, Elie spoke for our students at Oxford University, electrifying the capacity, packed-to-the rafters student audience with his testimony of the Holocaust and his vision of a world where innocents were no longer slaughtered. Two years ago, I accompanied Elisha as he delivered the keynote address at the March of the Living in Auschwitz where he bravely continued his father’s legacy of speaking out against human rights abuses, this time focusing on mass murder in Syria.
Addressing some 12,000 Jewish youth from around the world about this father’s legacy and what it means for us today, Elisha exhorted the Jewish community to stand for gay men and women being slaughtered in Muslim lands and the need for America to be an asylum for refugees. It was a courageous and unforgettable speech wherein Elisha continued his father’s defining virtue of speaking truth to power.
Sunday, September 30 would have been Elie’s 90 birthday. His Jewish birthday falls on the most festive day of the year, Simchat Torah, which we celebrated the next day.
It seems odd that the world’s most famous survivor of the world’s great crime would be born on the most joyous day on the Jewish calendar. Elie witnessed horrors that we can scarcely imagine. But perhaps the joy lies in the fact that the Jewish people survived the Holocaust and produced, in Elie Wiesel, one of Jewish history’s foremost lights to the nation.
WHENEVER I THINK of Elie, a rush of memories cascades through my mind. His gentle voice. The endless time he would have for visitors. His haunting voice in public speeches that seared the soul. His indescribable respect for his wife Marion and unconditional love for Elisha and his grandchildren, Elijah and Shira. His eloquent defenses of Israel. His love of Israel. And his humility.
When my daughter Shterny was about 16, she did a book report on Night. I asked Elie if she could interview him for the report. Amazing- ly, he said yes. And there I was, for a full hour, watching my teenage daughter interview the most famous Jewish personality in the world. With endless patience he answered her questions. Shterny asked him if he believed in God after the Holocaust. He said he did. But now, the relationship had changed. He reserved the right to challenge God. The relationship was now one more of equals.
Elie’s very name has come to bear the weight of all of the most fundamental values of the Jewish people: those of faith and of struggle, of strength and of pride, of righteous indignation and of the courage to forgive. He was, and remains, an eternal beacon of wisdom for us and our children, and an essential element in the moral bedrock of the world.
Elie’s absence is felt in so many of the atrocities that continue to plague our world. It’s felt in the gassing of children in Syria. As barrel bombs fell on children six months after Elie’s death, there was no voice that could shame the Western powers into taking action. Indeed, the Obama Administration supported a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlements all while not passing a single resolution condemning the mass murder in Syria. The Trump Administration gained tremendous moral authority when it punished Assad for using chemical weapons in Syria.
REB ELIEZER dedicated his life to commemorating the victims of mankind’s greatest crime, ensuring that it never be lost to the public consciousness. Unlike many survivors, who could not bear to face the horrors of their pasts, in his writing of Night, Wiesel decided to relive every horrid moment of his time in Auschwitz so that the world might know what befell the Jews of Europe, captured as it was from his own perspective.
However, his life was not dedicated only to memory, but also to action. Publishing over forty books in his lifetime, Elie’s works and ideas would launch him to the global fore. Once he’d achieved such influence, he would commit himself to doing all he could to protect innocent life. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Elie Wiesel would use his renown and influence to enshrine the memory of those for whom help never came and protect those for whom it still could.
It was Elie Wiesel who would push President Carter to commission the United States Holocaust Museum, who would admonish President Reagan for speaking at the cemetery in Bitburg that contained graves of the SS, who would call upon President Clinton to protect those being slaughtered in Kosovo and the Balkans, and to ask him the piercing question of why America did nothing while yet another genocide was taking place in Rwanda.
Which brings us to our world today.
I believe that every Jew must be committed to fighting genocide. The World Values Network is dedicated to international media campaigns highlighting the evils of mass murder. Whether it was our endless campaigning against the Iranian mullahs, who threaten Israel constantly with another genocide of the Jews, or in our push for Obama and Trump to take action in Syria – defending the infinite value of every human life is at the top of our agenda.
When Elie died, President Obama issued a statement calling him the “conscience of the world” – and in so doing, Obama earned a permanent place in my heart. For Elie was the face of the martyred six million of the Holocaust – and in remembering and honoring Elie, we ensure that their memory is never forgotten.I believe that every Jew must be committed to fighting genocide. The World Values Network is dedicated to international media campaigns highlighting the evils of mass murder. Whether it was our endless campaigning against the Iranian mullahs, who threaten Israel constantly with another genocide of the Jews, or in our push for Obama and Trump to take action in Syria – defending the infinite value of every human life is at the top of our agenda.When Elie died, President Obama issued a statement calling him the “conscience of the world” – and in so doing, Obama earned a permanent place in my heart. For Elie was the face of the martyred six million of the Holocaust – and in remembering and honoring Elie, we ensure that their memory is never forgotten.