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April 29, 2015 8:52 pm

Elie Weisel: Being Jewish is Not ‘Simply a Matter of Birth’ (VIDEO)

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Actor Michael Douglas (L), author Elie Wiesel (C) and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Photo: Courtesy Genesis Generation Challenge

Author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel on Wednesday said being Jewish “is not simply a matter of birth,” and called on Jews to “do something about their Jewishness.”

“We believe that to be Jewish is not simply a matter of birth. We must do something with it, with ourselves,” Wiesel told a crowd at the Bloomberg Philanthropies townhouse office on New York’s Upper East Side.

“It doesn’t mean that the Jew is better than anyone else,” said Wiesel. “It simply means, because I am a Jew, I have to do something with my Jewishness. It is the Jew in me who works for human rights … the Jew in me who believes that racism is stupid. Not only evil, but stupid.”

Wiesel was speaking to an audience after former mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the winners of his Genesis Generation Project, which awarded nine $100,000 grants from Bloomberg’s own Genesis prize award money for projects providing a “sustainable and scalable solution to an important problem.” Actor Michael Douglas, who won this years Genesis prize, was also present.

Among the winners were a U.S.-based platform to bring together Jews and Muslims to work on development projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and Prize4Life, an Israeli nonprofit looking to develop an app to help individuals monitor their ALS disease markers.

Watch a video of the Genesis Generation Challenge announcement below:

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  • Genghis Cohen

    Mr. Wiesel: Jews are reputedly among the most argumentative of peoples. Yet, in my experience, that is totally absent in Synagogue life where ritual is never questioned. Your plea that Jews do something with their Jewishness is blocked by Synagogue in-groups which wish to prevent the very activity you advocate. All religions believe that outsiders (even those born in the religion) may contaminate it. What then is a Jew who believes in the Jewish people but not the religion (or any other religion) to do to be Jewish?

    • Vittore

      Is anyone stopping you (or me; not religious either) to study Mishna or Gemara in a non-religious setting? Or to take up a translation of Jewish authors who wrote in a different language than English? (languages is my specialty, hence the particular examples.) Or how about even just finding a Jewish hospital (if you live in a city with one) and visiting the sick there or starting a program like that? Or to visit a local Jewish community or synagogue and start something like that?