Carry on Elie Wiesel’s fight against inhumanity

- Reuven H. Taff

When I learned of the death of Elie Wiesel at the conclusion of our Sabbath service Saturday, my heart fluttered and the shock of the news was devastatin­g. Elie Wiesel dead? He was larger than life. For years his voice was the conscience of the world. He was one of the few non-rabbis made an honorary member of the Rabbinical Assembly.

While his own suffering at the hands of the Nazis certainly impacted his passion to never allow the world to forget the horrors of the Holocaust, he became the spokesman to urge us all to not allow such horrors to take place on our watch. He spoke out against the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was never afraid to challenge world leaders.

I will never forget April 1985, when Elie Wiesel thanked President Reagan for awarding him the Congressio­nal Gold Medal of Achievemen­t, then implored Reagan not to go to Bitburg, Germany, where the president was scheduled to lay a wreath of flowers in a cemetery where 47 members of the Nazi SS were buried. “That place,” he said, “is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS.”

I was privileged to attend the dedication ceremony in 1993 of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.. It was fittingly a dreary, rainy day. Elie Wiesel was the last to speak:

“My good friends, it is not because I cannot explain that you won’t understand, it is because you won’t understand that I cannot explain. How can one under- stand that human beings could choose such inhumanity? ... What have we learned? We have learned some lessons, minor lessons, perhaps, that we are all responsibl­e, and indifferen­ce is a sin and a punishment.”

My last encounter with Elie Wiesel was in 2002. I called his office at Boston University to ask whether he’d send me a letter of condolence to the family of Helen Fishman Navi. Helen, a survivor of Auschwitz and member of my congregati­on, grew up with Wiesel in Sighet, Romania. Within a few minutes there was a message from my secretary that Elie Wiesel was on the phone. He told me that he had already dictated a letter to fax to me. He concluded his letter to the family saying:

“I knew Helen’s family, the Fishmans. ... There was deep melancholy in her when she spoke and when she was silent. In a mysterious way, part of her remained in Sighet. Now, as she was about to leave this world and ascend to the world of eternal truth, she will tell the celestial Tribunal the rest of the story — our story. May her memory be a blessing."

Now, Elie Wiesel has ascended from this earthly world to the heavenly one. And while no one will ever fill his shoes, let us all strive to carry on his legacy and the lessons he has taught us by never forgetting to stand against injustice, and to ensure that future generation­s will never ever forget man’s inhumanity to man. May his memory be forever a blessing.

Reuven H. Taff, a past president of the Greater Sacramento Board of Rabbis, is rabbi and spiritual leader of the Mosaic Law Congregati­on.

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