Elie Wiesel and Hope

Cantor Katchko-Gray and Prof. Elie Wiesel in his study at BU

Hope — something so essential, we really can’t live without it. We just commemorated the Night of Broken Glass — Kristallnacht, and thoughts of those dark days return, and for many, they never left. I have been a devoted student of Prof Elie Wiesel of blessed memory since his very first class in the fall of 1976 at Boston University. I have taken copious notes from that first class, and continued until his final lectures at the 92nd St Y. It is my hope that I will write a book on his early classes, using my notes as a way to remember his voice and his teachings. I have over 50 essays written and about 30 more to complete from lectures and classes I attended of his.

In reviewing some notes and trying to organize this enormous and sometimes overwhelming project, I came across my notes from a class in l977 Holocaust: Memory and Conscience. His words jump off the page and leap into my heart. It is as if he is speaking to all of us today.
I must share his words and my notes from 42 years ago- it is as if it was yesterday!

“ When you meet a survivor think and feel. A Survivor is the most tragic minority of all- try to understand him or her.”

“I hope you will remember our studies.”

Elie Wiesel hopes it opened up a certain thirst for humanity-
If you see suffering- YOU WILL DO SOMETHING
Not to be indifferent
If there was such inhumanity- now can one not be human?
• When you face evil don’t let it grow
Fight it right away. Had Hitler been fought right away, there would have been no Holocaust. If France and England developed their forces in l936 there would have been no Holocaust
Watch for origin
Don’t give the enemy a chance to become stronger

Words are pale to describe certain experiences
What else is there? Not faces, only words.

The importance of small gestures- a smile can justify humanity
In the ghetto is a person is hungry and they share bread- what is bread?
What American throws out a day, poor nations could live on.

The mystery of good is as deep as the mystery of evil

There was a wall between victim and killer
The victim did not become a killer

There is one and one thing alone that we must all be obsessed with – MEMORY
We cannot forget

His words at the last class of the semester were powerful as well.
What have I learned?
Never stand by when injustice is done
Not to keep silent

I decided as long as I have strength I’m going to remind the world that regardless of religion, or color, all of here have an obligation to listen.

Reading his words 42 years later, I am reminded of his dedication his entire life following the war, to remind us to remember, care, act, and have faith.

May his words continue to resonate and teach us, to inspire us with hope, and uplift us as we remember.

About the Author
Fourth generation cantor, second woman to serve a traditional synagogue and founder of the Women Cantors' Network. Deborah studied with Elie Wiesel z"l and continues to be inspired by his teachings. A cantor in Ridgefield, CT, cellist, tallit Swedish weaving embroiderer, mother of 6, grandmother of one. Wife and friend.
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