Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Americans on vacation travel to some of the finest places in the world. Without leaving the country, we have the privilege to step aside from the world’s news for a little while in beautiful settings. Where am I? I’m with Lisa in the Colorado mountains. We like the terra firma that meets our feet and keeps us grounded, so to speak. I begin each day reading and writing, and then gain inspiration from the landscape and outdoor experiences. Then we join friends for rigorous (?) hikes, good meals, and lots of fun. Time in the mountains helps me prepare to return home and give more to my family, the congregation and the community in the New Year.
Vacation escapes, however, don’t relieve us of all the daily news, its complexities and tragedies. News of Elie Wiesel saddened me especially. His death marked the end of an era. In his lifetime, he became the voice and interpreter of the Holocaust and by extension of humanity’s self-examination during its darkest periods. The Holocaust was unique in its horror, and Wiesel committed his life to give voice to those whose voices were silenced. In many quotes attributed to him in his work as author, teacher and lecturer, Wiesel warned us against silence as a victory for the “tormenter, not the tormented.” And, he was well-known for reminding us that “the opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” There were those who knew him personally and glimpsed on occasion the strained smile that he revealed. They were also acutely aware of his need to consider his life a gift during which he would express his gratitude through his commitment to help the world remember the Holocaust.
Deborah Lipdstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, recently talked about her experience sitting with Wiesel in 2005, when President George W. Bush asked a small group of Americans to represent him at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. She described a bitter cold day in January when they gathered for the anniversary program. She explained that despite being bundled up in many layers of winter clothing, she shivered from the cold. Sitting next to Wiesel and, “without thinking,” she emphasized, she turned to him and said, “Oh, I’m so cold.” She was mortified. Wiesel once endured such bitter cold with nothing but “a pajama-like uniform and ill-fitting shoes to keep him warm.” She turned once more to Wiesel and said, “I’m sorry. Certainly this cold is nothing like what you experienced as an inmate sixty years ago.” Then she apologized again. “I’m so sorry.” She reported that Wiesel leaned over, touched her hand, and with a sad smile said: “Don’t apologize, Deborah. I am cold too.”
Deborah Lipstadt, a defender of history and truth about the Holocaust, summed up that experience in words that only she could find. She said, “When the news of his death reached us, all who value justice, hate evil, and treasure truth felt a chill. The world was now just a bit colder.” As the Sabbath comes this week, we feel left alone in a world at war without the voice of Elie Wiesel to restore our hope. In reality, we are not alone; not if we live by the lessons Wiesel taught us. “Never again” is not a slogan; it’s a commitment. In his honor and memory, let us be good students of history and bring greater reason, wisdom and peace to our world for the sake of our future. Zichrono livracha, may his memory be for a blessing now and forever.