Marking Elie Wiesel’s 90th Birthday
I spent my life loving Elie Wiesel, and had the honor and pleasure of knowing him, learning from him, and working with him. I now have the equally great honor and pleasure of being a close friend of his wife Marion, his son Elisha, and daughter-in-law Lynn.
Two years ago, I accompanied his son Elisha as he delivered the keynote address at the March of the Living at 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 his father’s legacy and what it means for us today, Elisha also exhorted the Jewish community to stand up for gay men and women being slaughtered in Muslim lands, and the need for America to be an asylum for refugees.
September 30th would have been Elie’s 90th birthday. His Jewish birthday fell on the most festive day of the year, Simchat Torah.
It seems odd that the world’s most famous survivor of the world’s greatest crime would be born on the most joyous day of 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 unto the nations.
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 his unconditional love for Elisha and his grandchildren. I also think of his eloquent defenses of Israel, his love of Israel, and his humility.
Elie’s very name has come to bear the most fundamental values of the Jewish people: those of faith and struggle, strength and pride, righteous indignation and 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, such as the gassing of children in Syria and the horrible mass murder there.
Reb Eliezer dedicated his life to commemorating the victims of mankind’s greatest crime, ensuring that it never be lost to the public consciousness. However, his life was not dedicated only to memory, but to action as well. Publishing over 40 books in his lifetime, Elie’s works and ideas would launch him on to the global stage. Once he had achieved such influence, he would commit himself to doing all he could to protect innocent life. And he did.
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 SS members; who would call upon President Clinton to protect those being slaughtered in Kosovo and the Balkans; and would 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 — and the need to fight injustice, murder, and genocide across the world.
When Elie died, President Obama issued a statement calling him the “conscience of the world.” Indeed, 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.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and the international best-selling author of 31 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.