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February 06, 1987 - Image 30

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-02-06

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

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Friday, February 6, 1987

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

FOCUS

Elie Wiesel Troubled
By Jewish Disunity

SUSAN BIRNBAUM

N

ew York — Elie
Wiesel delivered his
State of World Jewry
address to a packed house at
the 92nd Street Y in Manhat-
tan recently and expressed his
concern about the disunity
within Jewish ranks.
"I am disturbed by the inner
process of polarization," he re-
flected, ". . . by the rancor and
hatred . . . the turning of poli-
tics into religion or religion
into politics." He obseived that
"even Hillel and Shammai sat
down at the same table to-
gether . . . and let their chil-
dren intermarry . . . We need to
know that we are brother and
sister. Somehow, this isn't so.
Have we forgotten our tradi-
tion of tolerance?"
In this vein, he struck a chil-
ling chord by linking the issue
of the failure of Allied leaders
to save Jews during the
Holocaust — a word which he
coined but which he said he
doesn't like anymore — and
the problem of disunity among
Jews. "So little was done to
help Jews during the war," he
said, "because there was so lit-
tle unity among the Jews
themselves."
His address, which also dealt
with Israel-Diaspora relations,
Soviet Jewry and interna-
tional terrorism, was delivered
with his usual fervor but was
also punctuated with levity
and wit.
During the question period,
Wiesel was asked for his defi-
nition of "Who is a Jew." His
response was: "To me, a Jew
who links his destiny to the de-
stiny of his people is a Jew. I
don't need to go further." But
he also observed that "I cannot
imagine a Jewish people with-
out a religious commitment."
The world-famed author and
lecturer and winner of the 1986
Nobel Peace Prize addressed
himself at length to the rela-
tionship between Israel and
Diaspora Jewry and the resis-
tance of Israelis to accept as
fact Jews who don't wish to live
in Israel. This rift, he said, puts
Diaspora Jewry "on the defen-
sive."
"The Diaspora poses prob-
lems," Wiesel reflected. As a
child growing up in the Car-
pathian mountains, "had any-
one told me there would be a
Jewish state, I would not have
believed it. But had anyone
told me there would be a
Jewish state and I wouldn't
live there, I'd believe it even
less."
The dual pull in the Jewish
psyche is troubling, he agreed.
"We have to constantly con-
front this. And there is no an-
swer. I admit it," he said. "The
Israelis resent us . . . What
does it really mean that some-
one should be measured by
where he lives?
"Sure," he said, "the Dias-

Elie Wiesel: even Hillel and
Shammai sat together.

pora is unnatural to Israel,"
but, he asked, "what do we do
with the self-imposed obliga-
tion to help Israel?"
Matters in Israel, he said,
are as important to Jews in the
Diaspora as events happening
on the next street. But as resi-
dents of the Diaspora, "do we
have the right or duty to take a
position on Israel's policies?"
Wiesel spoke also about
Soviet Jews, who are united in
the Soviet Union against a
common oppression, "united
with a solidarity that is inspir-
ing."
He expressed cautious op-
timism about the situation of
Soviet Jews, but did not refrain
from criticizing the Soviet re-
gime. "True," he said, "the
Kremlin has harshened its
position, but some refuseniks
have been freed." Soviet Jews
now know, he said, that "they
are not abandoned . . . They are
not in danger of disappearing,"
he said. We know "how to touch
them, to reach them."
He was optimistic about sev-
eral aspects of the plight of
Soviet Jewry, including the
fact that there are now repor-
tedly only a dozen Prisoners of
Zion, and that the anti-Zionist
propaganda machine has lost
much of its clout. "If it's not
heartwarming," he said, "at
least it's not so terrible."
He spoke less of the
Holocaust than expected, not-
ing, however, that "the subject
that was once taboo for so
many years" is now a focal
point. He mentioned "the new
wave" in Germany "not to deny
the tragedy but to normalize it
— the philosophy of (Chancel-
lor Helmut) Kohl and the new
historians."
Wiesel warned against the
evils of war for the world and
especially for Jews, because
"Whenever there is conflict be-
tween two nations, the Jews
are their first victims."
In an era of terrorism, he
said, Jews are singled out as
hostages.

Copyright 1987, JTA, Inc.

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