Elie Wiesel was not an Israeli citizen. Nevertheless, the news in Israel refers to him as “one of our own.” In a country whose establishment is inextricably tied to the Holocaust, the messages conveyed by his words, both written and spoken, articulate both the lessons of the Holocaust and, in a powerful way, the importance of the State of Israel. Israel, of course, provides the place to which Jews may escape and find safe haven when the forces of anti-Semitism imperil their lives. Today, the influx of Jews from France provides but one example of how important this aspect of Israel remains. But Wiesel’s message went beyond anti-Semitism, challenging Israel to be more than a place for Jews, but a place illuminated by Jewish values. Wiesel loved Israel. Had there been an Israel prior to WWII, one can only imagine how many Jews could have been saved. But Wiesel loved Israel not only because it was a place for Jews, but because it was the only place in this world where Judaism, Hebrew and Torah could gain full expression.
I had the privilege of hearing Elie Wiesel speak on numerous occasions. Most memorable was his visit to our congregation, some twelve years ago, arranged for by our member, my dear friend and friend of Wiesel, David Pincus, z”l. Each time I heard Elie Wiesel speak, the power and poetry of his words touched me deeply. But it was not just the stories of the Holocaust which stirred him. As distance from the Holocaust grew, his message to those who would listen focused powerfully and forcefully on today’s world. Whether speaking to the UN about the growth of anti-Semitism or identifying today’s tyrants who orchestrate the mass murder of their own citizens, Wiesel was tireless, fearless and unwavering.
While mourning Wiesel’s death, we were reminded of the urgency and timeliness of the message of his life. Over the course of the 24 hours before or after his death, we learned of a spate of brutal, gruesome and senseless attacks. In a cafe in Bangladesh gunmen entered and executed 20 people. In Baghdad a suicide bomber drove his van into an area crowded with people celebrating the end of Ramadan, killing more than 140. ISIS has claimed responsibility for these attacks, as well as the attack in the airport in Istanbul. Here in Israel, during that same 24 hour period, we learned of the stabbing of a 13 year-old girl by a terrorist who broke into her house and stabbed her while she slept in her bed.
And then there was the random attack on a rabbi and his family coming home to prepare for Shabbat.
Rabbi Miki Marks, the Head Rabbi/Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva in the town of Otniel, had a reputation for being open and kind, a rare Rabbi who wanted to find ways to live and co-exist with his Palestinian neighbors. It was because of this reputation that Elie Wiesel agreed to come to that Yeshiva some years ago as the Yeshiva’s new building was being dedicated. In a photograph being circulated today, Wiesel and Rabbi Marks are seen smiling and clapping hands as the mezuza was affixed to the doorpost at the entrance to the building by Elie Wiesel. It is ironic that the Rabbi was killed just before Shabbat, less than 24 hours before Wiesel died.
Israelis, secular and religious alike, have been stunned by the senseless attack on the Rabbi of Otniel and the attack on a girl sleeping in her bed. Meanwhile, the world is shocked once again, by the murderous rampages of an unrestrained and unrepentant Radical Islam. (Israelis cannot comprehend how the world can be stunned by the terrorism perpetrated by ISIS around the world while remaining indifferent to attacks in Israel. But that discussion is for another time.) Even Wiesel’s powerful voice was unable to shake the world’s conscience in order to generate a global call for justice for Israel. But Wiesel never stopped trying.
I don’t know what Israel or humanity can do to fight the evil which seems to fill our world. Elie Wiesel charged us with the responsibility to bear witness. He implored us never to forget. In response to a lifetime of pleas by Elie Wiesel, in response to the terrorism which is inflicted daily upon Israelis, in response to a world which seems permeated with hatred, we must never stop trying. What then shall we do? That is a question we must each answer for ourselves. But this much I know: in response to a hate-filled and violence-crazed world, in solidarity with Israel and as an homage to the life and work of Elie Wiesel, z”l, we cannot forget, we cannot ignore, we must never become indifferent.