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June 01, 1984 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-06-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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14 Friday, June 1, 1984

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Elie Wiesel: the
fire still burns

Continued from Page 1

Elie Wiesel:
All the memories that
form the collective
memory of the Jewish
people are in the
present. All the events
of history still have an
effect today."

"The American Jewish commu-
nity's interest is at it's strongest
point right now," he states in re-
sponse to a question. "But the posit-
ive can become negative through
over-emphasis. The same thing has
happened in other areas. Too much is
You see the fire in his answer.
Whether it is the warm, mellow fire
or the frightening, overpowering fire
does not matter to Elie Wiesel as he
gently fans the flames inside you or
the flames inside the 1,000 members
of his audience 15 minutes later.
Wiesel is a catalyst; he helps you pro-
' vide the answers to your own ques-
tions. It does not matter whether the
questions come from one or 1,000 . . .
he is speaking to you.
In our private talk inside Rabbi
Efry Spectre's study, Elie Wiesel
mentions the return to religiosity.
"The statistics about our future must
be wrong. People want to give, not
just take."
I steer the converstion to Wiesel
himself — author, lecturer, college
professor, U.S. Holocaust Council
chairman. The answers are polite,
but short, clipped, impatient. Elie
Wiesel does not like talking about
himself. Yes, he is extremely busy.
Two of his books recently published
in France — Words from a Stranger
and The Fifth Son are being trans-
lated into English, and he is working
on a Talmud commentary.
Yes, the Holocaust Council takes
too much of his time. There are many

meetings in Washington, many tele-
phone conversations.
But the fire returns to his eyes
and voice as he discusses the
Holocaust Council's work. "We will
soon start a fund-raising campaign"
for the Holocaust Museum in Wash-
ington, he said. "We will need $100
million at least, $30 million alone
just to reconstruct the buildings."
There is no dismay in his voice over
such large sums, no concern that the
funds will not be raised. He just
states the facts, in complete, quiet
confidence that a necessary task, an
obligation, will be completed. The
campaign will begin within months,
he says.
The fire burns brighter as he de-
scribes an international conference
on hatred that he is organizing with
French President Francois Mitter-
rand. The words tumble out: "400
masters of disciplines — psychol-
ogists, sociologists," "one week in
France in December 1985," "find out
what makes people hate," "30 to 40
heads of state at the concluding event
to adopt a maifesto against hatred."
Can hatred be stopped by a con-
ference of academicians? Wiesel is
asked? Is world hatred at the same
level now that it was at the time of
the Holocaust? The fires suddenly
burn fiercely: "Don't compare the
Shoa — the Holocaust -- to anything
else," Wiesel says. Subject closed.
The subject is a different topic.
"Hatred today is on the level of state-
hood . . . Khomeini, Qaddafi ."

yeshivah, dreaming of the Messiah
and dreaming of the Exodus from
Egypt. "The beauty of the story of the
Exodus was the quickness of the
pace," the professor in Wiesel ex-
plains. "In seven weeks we had the
Exodus and we received the Law."
"In seven weeks, my community
and hundreds like it were swept
away," Holocaust survivor Wiesel
explains. "Swept away by the enemy
. . . 600,000 people"
"That young man continued to
study . . . to try to understand what
happened. Prayers, facts, I studied
them. I still study today. What I
learned then — Torah, Talmud —
applied to modern times. I lived it. We
lived it. The Prophet, Jeremiah
applies to modern times."
"All the memories that form the
collective memory of the Jewish
people are in the present. All the
events of history still have an effect
today. I understand better now be-
cause of what happened to me."
"The greatest man in Jewish his-
tory was Moses. Moshe Rabenu.
Moses our Teacher. He was not a pro-
phet, not a general, not a legislator.
This 'is the highest compliment we
can pay any person — our teacher.
"When the Messiah comes, He
will teach.
"There is nothing more holy,
more beautiful, more exciting than to
be a student. To receive is to share."
"There is a law in the Talmud —
if a disciple is sentenced to banish-
ment, the teacher must join the stu-
dent in banishment. At first I was
frightened -- I am a teacher. Am I
supposed to be responsible for all the
mischief of my students? Yes!
"The law places heavy responsi-
bility not only on the teacher but also
on the student. His actions affect his
teacher . . . No one can be punished
without the possibility of learning.
Even prisoners must have a rabbi.
The Kabbalah takes this mystically:
God is the teacher and God must fol-
low the student — the Talmud — into
exile." "If one were given the choice of
ransoming the Talmud or his
teacher, the teacher is the answer.
You cannot live without the teacher,
without study."

It is time for his speech. More
than 1,000 persons wait patiently in-
side the sanctuary. The lights dim
and a single spotlight in the back of
the room illuminates a small table,
two microphones and-Elie Wiesel, As
the room darkens, Elie Wiesel is
speaking personally to us, individu-
ally to us, to the 1,000 of us, to the
millions of us. All we see is Elie
Wiesel and ourselves.
He tells stories. Stories about
himself, about Moses. "Stories from
the same source — the collective
Jewish memory." Stories appropriate
for the time of the counting of the
Omer; the time between Passover
' •
and the Exodus and Shavuot and the
giving of the Law. "In between are
The fire burns brighter.
many journeys, betrayals, disap-
Wiesel discusses Moshe Rabenu
pointments. But they are the Jewish
again, and makes a comparison.
"Moshe Rabenu is the highest person
He tells of Elie Wiesel 40 years
we can imagine. In the story of Moses
ago;' -&'YO- n riie
dYing in
"Wa comprehend the' efitiie 'IiikOry of

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