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On July 27, 2009, I attended Library Day at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, NY. The main speaker for that day was Elie Wiesel. I have admired this gentleman since I was in middle school. This was an awesome honor for me to attend lectures by him and to meet him in person. Bus loads of people came from all around (e.g. Cleveland) to hear Elie Wiesel speak. Here are my notes from the day at Chautauqua.
In 1986 Mr. Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. Wiesel’s lecture focused on the question of “what makes us moral?”
- God has no explanations to give. God gives the law – man tries to explain.
- What makes us immoral? When I see someone hungry and do not feed them. To be indifferent to someone else’s hunger (hunger is a metaphor).
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, is the number one Holocaust denier. He states that the Holocaust never happened but said he wants it to happen with nuclear weapons. He wants to wipe out Israel.
People suffer not only from what is inflicted on them but the feeling that they are alone.
Anti-semitism is the oldest group prejudice in history. It preceded the Exile. Roman philosophers have anti-semitic outbursts.
The world has not learned from Auschwitz. If it had, there would have been no Cambodia, Bosnia, or Darfur.
Many Einzatsgruppen (SS Special units) had college degrees and some even had doctoral degrees in things such as Theology and Arts.
Ancient times when an Emperor was killed/died – all laws that Emperor enacted were abolished. Jewish tradition that does not exist – the Law is the law. The Law is above politics – the Law is above everything else.
Nazi Germany believed what they were doing was moral. Doing what they were doing for the sake of humanity – not just Germany.
You need to always remain true to yourself.
President G.W. Bush asked Elie if he thought invading Iraq was moral before the invasion. He told Bush it would not be a just war that negotiations and sanctions should be used.
To Mr. Wiesel the only just war was on the side of the Allies during World War II (this is something I always said when I studied just war theory).
A moral society takes care of its children and its elderly. In the US we do not care enough for the elderly. In other parts of the world children are the first victims.
In an immoral society the government rewrites history.
“Romeo & Juliet” is not a book about love. It is about HATRED. Two families hated each other so much that the children paid.
In an immoral society – your right to question is taken away.
Job 38 – the book changes. The problem up until that point was not God’s injustice, but his apparent indifference. Once God speaks, Job knows God is not indifferent.
Morally we are obligated to respect the otherness of the other. We must respect life – PERIOD. Suffering inflicted by us or anyone else is immoral.
Question about the “God on the Gallows” quotation in Night – When the killers killed the Jews – they also were trying to kill God.
Whatever you do in life, think higher and feel deeper.
- No human being is alone. God alone is alone.
- Don’t relax – enjoy every moment of your life and be sensitive to others.
- Interfaith understanding is critical to us today.
- Religion is like money – you can do good with money or you can do bad with it.
People who kill in the name of their god make their god and accomplice to murder.
To forget victims is to kill them a second time.
We don’t pay enough attention to hatred. Hatred is like a contagious cancer.
Elie Wiesel did not want to live after his father died in the camp. Does not know why he survived after that. Didn’t have the will to live.
Mr. Wiesel never doubted God’s existence – just his presence.
A woman from Sri Lanka stood up and thanked Mr. Wiesel for speaking out about the problems in Sri Lanka. She wakes up each day (she now lives in PA) wondering why she was spared the prison camps yet friends are in the camps.
Mr. Wiesel signed my copies of “Night” and “The Trial of God”. I was so touched by the whole day, my soul feels as if it has been changed. I believe what I felt after spending a day listening to him has to be similar to what one felt after listening to Ghandi.