We Cannot Become Indifferent

At the beginning of his autobiography entitled “Night,” Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel (who passed away in 2016) speaks of his friend and tutor Moshe the Beadle who was the caretaker of the synagogue. Moshe was quite religious and spoke frequently of Jewish mysticism. Moshe was deported and eventually returned to the town. Upon his return, he spoke no more of religion or mysticism. Rather, he would only speak of what he had experienced. To his dismay, people thought that Moshe was crazy and would not believe him.

At the end of the book and after liberation, Elie Wiesel looked into a mirror for the first time in months and stated “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”

I have always felt that the point here was that the Elie Wiesel who existed prior to the Holocaust had died and that now he had become the spiritual reincarnation of Moshe the Beadle, the man whom people thought was crazy, the man to whom no only listened; the man who bore witness to the evils of bigotry and hate, but whose witness seemed destined to fall upon deaf ears.

It is not an accident that it would take Wiesel fourteen years to write Night, the book only being published in 1959.

Later in his life as part of his being a witness to the terrible consequences of hate, Wiesel would state:

“The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness. It is indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy. It is indifference. The opposite of life is not death. It is indifference.”

The challenge of Wiesel’s teaching is that we have to take his admonition seriously. We cannot allow his memory to become like that of Moshe the Beadle.

Bottom line is that we cannot allow ourselves to become indifferent to what is happening in our world.

We cannot be indifferent as much of the progress toward Civil Rights made during the past 50+ years could be undone by a political system that seems intent on rewarding those who are filled with bias, bigotry and racism.

We cannot be indifferent as scientific and reality based economic theories are replaced by ones like the so called “trickle down economics” which in effect hurt the poor and enrich the already wealthy.

We cannot be indifferent to the pressing need for a “fix” for article 4 of the “Voting Rights Act.”

We cannot be indifferent as income inequality continues to grow and the gap between the haves and the have-nots will only increase.

We cannot be indifferent as to the prejudice against people who are of a different religion, a different sexual orientation or a different nationality.

We cannot be indifferent to people who came searching to fulfill a dream but who came in an undocumented way and are persecuted and sent back to the countries of their origin.

We cannot be indifferent as African Americans continue to be shot with impunity by law enforcement.

We cannot be indifferent as schools are resegregated, not necessarily according to race, but according to economic class.

We cannot be indifferent as to the threat that the estimated 22 million people who could in one fell swoop, lose their healthcare coverage because of political machinations and greed.

We cannot be indifferent as in this country, a country of such wealth and privilege, poverty continues to grow and that hunger among especially young children, will continue to increase.

We cannot be indifferent as laws which protect our LGBTQ friends are rolled back. In North Carolina, we demand an end to the pernicious HB@ bathroom bill.

We cannot be indifferent as this last week more than 60,000 visas, many held by people seeking asylum and refuge, are cancelled in keeping with an ill thought out executive order.

We cannot be indifferent and neither would Elie Wiesel to the plight of Syria, a county wherein 500,000 have been killed, 10 million are refugees, and 8 million are homeless in their own country.

We cannot be indifferent and neither would Elie Wiesel as the Iranians develop intercontinental ballistic missiles and state that the ultimate aim of such missiles is to destroy the state of Israel, a place wherein today there are more than 6,000,000 Jews.

We cannot be indifferent and especially neither would Elie Wiesel when in commemoration of the International Holocaust day the White House issues a statement which purposely neglects to mention to 6,000,000 Jews murdered by the Nazis, including 1,500,000 children and most of Elie Wiesel’s family.

Dr Martin Luther King taught that we in this country need a “revolution in values” motivated by “the fierce urgency of Now.”

I think Elie Wiesel would have agreed with this, particularly had he lived to see our current situation.

We must raise our voices and take action wherever and whenever bias bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia raise their ugly heads. We cannot become indifferent! We must become people who resist with all of our beings the forces of hate! We must act as we continue to pray and work for a world built on compassion, understanding, justice and peace!

About the Author
Fred Guttman is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, North Carolina. He has served on the Commission of Social Action for Reform Judaism. He has been recognized as one of the “50 Voices for Justice” by the URJ and by the Forward Magazine as one of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis.” In March 2015, he organized the National Jewish commemoration in Selma of the 50th Anniversary of the Bloody Sunday March.