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Elie Wiesel and the Shabbat

July 8, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, July 8, 2016.

Last Shabbat, one of our most inspiring scholars and leaders, Rumanian born Elie Wiesel, passed away. In the post WWII years, Holocaust survivors didn’t talk about their experiences. There was very little written about the Holocaust – even news reports weren’t extensive. Elie Wiesel’s first novel, Night, published in 1960 was a novel unlike any other. Based on his own experiences in the Holocaust, the book was beautiful and brutal at the same time. He described the indescribable and showed us the unimaginable. His words in that first novel are haunting and unforgettable:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed...Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

You would think that all his writing was about doom – but this is far from the fact. He wrote about the strength of human beings. He wrote about moral imperatives. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, they called him “a messenger for the world.” He was outspoken about oppression – not just Jewish oppression. In his Nobel acceptance speech he declared:

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.

He wrote about the past – the past before the destruction of European Jewry. It was a glowing description of Jewish life. And there, his memories of Shabbat, were, in some ways, an antidote to the poison of the horror of what was to come.

I shall never forget Shabbat in my town. When I shall have forgotten everything else, my memory will still retain the atmosphere of holiday, of serenity pervading even the poorest houses; the white tablecloth, the candles, the meticulously combed little girls, the men on their way to the synagogue. When my town shall fade into the abyss of time, I will continue to remember the light and the warmth it radiated on Shabbat. The exalted prayers, the wordless songs of the Hasidim, the fire and radiance of their masters. The jealousies and grudges, the petty rancor between neighbors could wait. As could the debts and worries, the dangers. Everything could wait. As it enveloped the universe, the Shabbat conferred on it a dimension of peace, an aura of love.

Shabbat Shalom