Elisha Wiesel’s Rosh Hashanah remembrance

Middle East
on 18 Comments

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

I never pursued Elie Wiesel like some other Jews who felt that his memory of the Holocaust deflected, even buried, the complicity of Israel and the Jewish establishment in America in the injustice done to the Palestinian people. Over the years, I studied and wrote about Wiesel in a respectful and critical way.

It wasn’t just critics of Israeli policies toward Palestinians who had their fill of Wiesel on the public stage. I will never forget a prominent liberal rabbi complaining that Wiesel was cashing in on the Holocaust. When he ended his stinging indictment – “There’s no business, like Shoah business” – he expected from me a sign of solidarity. I cringed and walked away.

Now there is a reflection by Wiesel’s son, Elisha, in the Forward on the first Rosh Hashanah since his father’s passing last year. Again respect is due. Each one of us has a right to remember his or her father in the way we need to.

Yet Elisha’s reflection is a public one, of his famous father, and the way he remembers his father is important. How Elie Wiesel is remembered is important for us, too.

After some personal reminiscing, Elisha concentrates on his father’s message to Jews and the world:

What was my father’s message?

Listen to the prophet Isaiah in yesterday’s Haftorah, the reading from the prophets: “For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest, until her righteousness comes out like brilliance, and her salvation burns like a torch.”

Not to be silent… not to rest. When I see friends standing up for DACA Dreamers, or refusing to accept false moral equivalence in Charlottesville, or demanding the world’s recognition of the Jewish State of Israel’s right to exist, I hear the message. And I feel him with us.

But there was something about my father that went even deeper than his humanitarian efforts and social activism, something that was a source for those outward manifestations.

I find Elie Wiesel’s deeper manifestation in Elisha’s cadence, much like his father’s. Rather than fact or dogma, their words have a liturgical resonance. Father and son communicate a liturgy of commitment and inclusion on the personal and collective level. Yet like his father, Elisha leaves important elements of the Jewish present out. I wouldn’t call what is left out an issue. Issues can be resolved over time and, often, through small steps. Rather what Elisha leaves out is more like a confessional commandment: his father’s, now his complicity in the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.

Notice, when Elisha addresses DACA and Charlottesville, he calls for justice, compassion and inclusion. When it comes to Israel, his vision narrows. Elisha calls for the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Nowhere are Palestinians mentioned. Or Israel’s settlement polices in Jerusalem and the West Bank. On Gaza, Elisha is silent. The call among some of Israel’s political and religious leaders to further diminish Palestinian life are likewise unmentioned. As is the need for Jews to listen to Jews of Conscience in solidarity with Palestinians.

Instead, Elisha moves on to more apolitical issues:

Do you walk your friend to the elevator or the lobby and not just the front door, the way he would?

Do you put aside what you are doing when a human being, child or adult, has a story they want to share?

If you were his student, and are now a teacher, do you treat every student as a soul to be carefully heard and nurtured during your time with them?

If remembering my father leaves you a little less cynical, a little less self-absorbed, a little more open to other people than you would have been otherwise, then the message is still being received. Still being broadcast. And the messenger is still here.

Aren’t these pointers a little too easy for the rigor of the holy days that are upon us?

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, leads to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The path from one to the other is one of confession and commitment to change. What makes Elisha’s remembrance of his father tragic is that he fails to realize that one honors the memory of one’s parents by taking up the torch, recognizing their witness, and articulating how we, their children, can move further along the road of justice and compassion.

Nostalgia for Jewish innocence isn’t the way forward. As Jews, we are no longer innocent. What Elisha leaves out is crucial. How can we move forward without recognizing what needs to be done?

In the end, Elisha’s Rosh Hashanah remembrance saddens me because he fails to understand that the limits of his father, indeed his father’s complicity in the suffering of Palestinians, need not be his own.

Yet Elisha’s own limitation raises, in an urgent way, the way our sons and daughters will remember us.

The Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur season is a time of reckoning. Of course we are flawed. Who better to know that than our sons and daughters? Yet if we speak and act at the most difficult points of our collective and personal life, we provide hope for our children’s future.

Though fragmented and broken, a way forward – a Jewish future of justice and compassion – is possible. Our sons and daughters can take up the torch passed to them and pass it along to their children.

So it is, what I believe Elisha left out, our Book of Life, where we are written in or out during these coming days: “Here I am. Send me.”

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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18 Responses

  1. festus
    September 19, 2017, 2:58 pm

    Another generation of delusion and racism

  2. jon s
    September 19, 2017, 3:52 pm

    Shana Tova! A Happy New Year to all!
    May it be a year of peace and reconciliation.

    • eljay
      September 19, 2017, 6:38 pm

      || jon s: … May it be a year of peace and reconciliation. ||

      May it be a year of justice, accountability and equality.

    • Mooser
      September 20, 2017, 12:44 pm
      • eljay
        September 20, 2017, 1:14 pm

        || Mooser @ September 20, 2017, 12:44 pm ||

        I think jon s is saying that:
        – he’s at peace with his Zionist belief in a “Jewish State” and absolution for (war) crimes committed; and
        – it’s up to others to reconcile their truths to his Zionism.

      • Mooser
        September 20, 2017, 4:03 pm

        “– it’s up to others to reconcile their truths to his Zionism.”

        I guess that leaves it up to us to consider whether “Jon s’s” Zionist implacability is simply the assurance borne of overwhelming power, pure sham, or the desperate over-compensation of the sure loser.

    • Marnie
      September 22, 2017, 12:24 am

      “Shana tova” blah, blah, blah.

      Zionists and their enablers will never have peace because THEY DON’T WANT IT! Reconcile that jon s.

  3. eljay
    September 19, 2017, 6:47 pm

    … Now there is a reflection by Wiesel’s son, Elisha, in the Forward on the first Rosh Hashanah since his father’s passing last year. Again respect is due. Each one of us has a right to remember his or her father in the way we need to. …

    One can respect Elisha Wiesel’s right to remember his father in the way he needs to. One does not owe the rose-tinted remembrance any respect.

    Elie Wiesel was a Zionist and, like all Zionists, he was a hypocrite who believed that the religion-based identity of Jewish comprises a right:
    – to a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine; and
    – to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others do unto them.

    The world can do with a lot less of that sort of “painfully human and profoundly spiritual being”.

  4. Keith
    September 19, 2017, 7:00 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “When he ended his stinging indictment – “There’s no business, like Shoah business” – he expected from me a sign of solidarity. I cringed and walked away.”

    When I think of Elie Wiesel, I think of a fraud sharing the stage with his buddies Shmuley Boteach and genocidaire Paul Kagame. And you cringed and walked away?

    • Rusty Pipes
      September 19, 2017, 8:50 pm

      Perhaps the prominent rabbi had recently read one of Norman Finkelstein’s works in which he not only coined the phrase “There’s no business, like Shoah business,” but exposed the various ways Wiesel cashed in on the Holocaust Industry and served as one of Israel’s most prominent diaspora Hasbarists. A son has the right to remember his father with all the sentimentality he wants. The rest of us are entitled to cringe and walk away.

    • Misterioso
      September 20, 2017, 10:25 am

      Elie Wiesel rightfully protested the desecration of Jewish graves anywhere in the world, but he had nothing to say when the Arab cemetery at Deir Yassin was bulldozed along with hundreds of others throughout Palestine. Nor did Mr. Wiesel publicly mention that from November 1947 to January 1949, he worked as a journalist for the Irgun newspaper, Zion in Kamf (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October/ November 1997) and was surely informed by his employers of what occurred at Deir Yassin on 9 April 1948.

      Also:
      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2010/05/27/open-letter-elie-wiesel/

      New York Review of Books, May 27, 2010
      “An Open Letter to Elie Wiesel”
      By Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon

      Excerpts:

      “In a recent public letter to President Obama, Elie Wiesel urged the President not to ‘pressure’ Israel to cease settlement activity in Jerusalem. According to Wiesel:

      ” ‘For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture—and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming…. To many theologians, it IS Jewish history…. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming…. Contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.’ ”

      “The views expressed by Wiesel are not shared by a growing movement of Israelis who oppose the continued expansion of settlements and who have been protesting the eviction by the Israeli government of Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. These Israelis have responded to Mr. Wiesel in the following letter. Among the one hundred signers are Israel Prize Laureates Avishai Margalit and Zeev Sternhell, former Knesset Speaker and Jewish Agency Chairman Avrum Burg, Professors David Shulman and Moshe Halbertal, former Knesset member Zehava Galan, and other Jerusalemites, many of whom are prominent intellectuals and academics.”

      “Dear Mr. Wiesel: “We write to you from Jerusalem to convey our frustration, even outrage, at your recently published letter on Jerusalem. We are Jewish Jerusalemites—residents by choice of a battered city, a city used and abused, ransacked time and again first by foreign conquerors and now by its own politicians. We cannot recognize our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its name.”

      “We invite you to our city to view with your own eyes the catastrophic effects of the frenzy of construction. You will witness that, contrary to some media reports, Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem. You will see the gross inequality in allocation of municipal resources and services between east and west. We will take you to Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are being evicted from their homes to make room for a new Jewish neighborhood, and to Silwan, where dozens of houses face demolition because of the Jerusalem Municipality’s refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians.”

  5. RoHa
    September 19, 2017, 11:02 pm

    “Elisha calls for the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

    And the basis of this alleged right?

    • Mooser
      September 20, 2017, 1:03 pm

      “And the basis of this alleged right?”

      P-O-W-E-R!!!

  6. Brewer
    September 20, 2017, 3:57 pm

    Can never resist posting this clever response to Wiesel by Israel Shamir:

    “The touching words of Elie Wiesel painted a beautiful portrait of the Jewish people, yearning, loving and praying for Jerusalem over the centuries and cherishing its name from generation to generation.

    This potent image reminded me, an Israeli writer from Jaffa , of something familiar yet elusive. I finally made the connection by revisiting my well-thumbed volume of Don Quixote. Wiesel’s evocative article is so wonderfully reminiscent of the immortal love of the Knight of Sad Visage for his belle Dulcinea de Toboso. Don Quixote travelled all over Spain proclaiming her name. He performed formidable feats, defeated giants, who turned out to be windmills, brought justice to the oppressed, all for the sake of his beloved. When he decided that his achievements made him worthy, he sent his arms-bearer, Sancho Panza, to his Dame with a message of adoration.

    Now I find myself in the somewhat embarrassing position of Sancho Panza. I have to inform my master, Don Wiesel Quixote, that his Dulcinea is well. She is happily married, has a bunch of kids, and she is quite busy with laundry and other domestic chores. While he fought brigands and restored governors, somebody else took care of his beloved, fed her, provided her with food, made love to her, made her a mother and grandmother. Do not rush, dear knight, to Toboso, lest it break your heart.

    Elie, the Jerusalem that you write of so movingly is not now and never has been desolate. She has lived happily across the centuries in the embrace of another people, the Palestinians of Jerusalem, who have taken good care of her. They made her the beautiful city she is, adorned her with a magnificent piece of jewellery, the Golden Dome of Haram al Sharif, built her houses with pointed arches and wide porches and planted cypresses and palm trees.

    They do not mind if the knight-errant visits their beloved city on his way from New York to Saragosa. But be reasonable, old man. Stay within the frame of the story and within the bounds of common decency. Don Quixote did not drive his jeep into Toboso to rape his old flame. OK, you loved her, and thought about her, but it does not give you the right to kill her children, bulldoze her rose garden and put your boots on her dining room table. All your words just prove that you confuse your desires with reality. You ask why the Palestinians want Jerusalem ? Because she belongs to them, because they live there and it is their hometown. Granted, you dreamed about her in your remote Transylvania . So did many people around the world. She is so wonderful and certainly worth dreaming about……………
    ………..Once, walking with the Christian pilgrims to the great Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I was stopped by a Hassidic Jew. He inquired whether my companions were Jews, and, receiving a negative reply, exclaimed in amazement: “What are these Goyim (Gentiles) looking for in the Holy City ?” He had never heard of the Passion of Jesus Christ, whose name he used as a swear word. I am equally amazed that a Jewish professor from Boston University is as ignorant as the simple-minded Hassidic Jew. Jerusalem is holy to billions of believers: Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Christians, Sunni and Shia Moslems, to thousands of Hassidic and Sephardi Jews. Still, as a city, Jerusalem is not different from any other place in the world; she belongs to her citizens.

    Twenty more years of Zionist control of this ancient city will turn her into another Newark and forever ruin her charm. Jerusalem needs to be restored to its inhabitants. The seized properties in Talbieh and Lifta, Katamon and Malcha should be returned to their owners. Professor Wiesel, respect Gentile property rights as you would like Gentiles to respect your right to your lovely house. The holy sites of Jerusalem are regulated by the 150-year-old international statute (Status Quo) that should not be tampered with. The last attempt to touch it caused the siege of Sevastopol and the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava . The next attempt could cause a nuclear war.”

    [i] It was written as a response to a long article by Elie Wiesel, “ Jerusalem in My Heart,” New York Times, 1/25/2001 .

    http://www.israelshamir.net/shamirReaders/english/Shamir–Rape-of-Dulcinea.php

  7. Citizen
    September 20, 2017, 6:14 pm

    Jeez, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, eh? Meh, Zionists.

  8. BethlehemOlivesRedeem
    October 1, 2017, 2:53 am

    Brewer, thank you for posting Israel Shamir’s eloquent reply to Wiesel.

    Marc Ellis, I have great respect for you, but this isn’t a cheer-leading commentary. It’s more a “confessional-commandment” reflection on how I read and re-read your challenging essay above as a sort of “liturgy of commitment and inclusion on the personal and collective level.”

    There’s so much you write that shows great sympathy for Palestinians, yet it seems your affection for an insider rabbinical-paternal role in writing tends at times to muddy the clarity of your political analysis. I appreciate the need a spiritual counselor has for indirection at times, but this literate temple here, mondoweiss.net, isn’t literally just Weiss’s world or a one-windowed room for intratribal philosophizing… Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry made that clear long ago, as have many of the articles, op-eds and essays here, and even more importantly the diverse, at times brilliantly fiery comments (thanks in large part to facilitation and encouragement by Annie, a presence and voice sorely missed in recent weeks/months).

    You wrote:
    “I never pursued Elie Wiesel like some other Jews who felt that his memory of the Holocaust deflected, even buried, the complicity of Israel and the Jewish establishment in America in the injustice done to the Palestinian people.” I thought, okay, how did YOU decide to “pursue” him? Did you consider, for instance, how much of what he claimed since “Night” as “memory” might be fiction?

    Then you added: “Over the years, I studied and wrote about Wiesel in a respectful and critical way…..I will never forget a prominent liberal rabbi complaining that Wiesel was cashing in on the Holocaust. When he ended his stinging indictment – “There’s no business, like Shoah business” – he expected from me a sign of solidarity. I cringed and walked away.”

    “cringed and walked away” from what? I thought, there you go again, with that (play-it-safe-with-certain-audiences) rabbinical ambivalence. Which devil are you advocating for at this point?

    When you touched the heart of your essay, “a reflection by Wiesel’s son, Elisha, in the Forward on the first Rosh Hashanah since his father’s passing last year,” I relaxed, Okay, maybe now Marc is getting somewhere clear and straight.

    But you spun about: “Again respect is due. Each one of us has a right to remember his or her father in the way we need to.” “the way we need to”? We’re not talking about private lives here, but about a very major public figure, my friend. What’s the rabbi doing here? Weaving a web of comfort for some one he imagines needs comforting? Pontius Pilate, maybe (to mix religious metaphors)? I mean ELIE WIESEL, to borrow from Trump’s lexicon, was HYUUGE!

    “Elisha calls for the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Nowhere are Palestinians mentioned. Or Israel’s settlement polices in Jerusalem and the West Bank. On Gaza, Elisha is silent.” You are pushing him. This is good. “The call among some of Israel’s political and religious leaders to further diminish Palestinian life are likewise unmentioned. As is the need for Jews to listen to Jews of Conscience in solidarity with Palestinians.”

    “SOME” of Israel’s political and religious leaders”???? I wonder why you didn’t write more unequivocally, openly challenging the notion of a state having rights at all. (A state is a massive institutional abstraction dominated by the most domineering of human agents, what Jacques Ranciere has brilliantly clarified as the POLICE operatives of an aesthetic regime.) Or at a minimum you might have ventured declaring that no state “has a right to exist” as an ethno-exclusive regime, especially one that disenfranchises a fifth of its residents while parasitically colonizing its neighbors whenever the opportunity arises – largely thanks to that 69-year-old state’s leaders running a regime with leaders (and Founders) who since Herzl’s The Jewish State have been infiltrating every European state (including the Euro-colonial states of the Western hemisphere) with an agenda bent on using those states (they’re mere gentiles after all, and former persecutors to boot) to finance, arm and even wage Israel’s overt and covert wars on its neighbors to soften them up for future colonization.

    “Respect is due” false memories? Like the 1996 Zionist blueprints Wiesel seemed to have no objection to for today’s Western/Israeli-devastation of North Africa and the Middle East, i.e., the Project for a New American Century and A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (drawn up, btw, on Clinton’s watch)?

    What’s the meaning of “the need for Jews to listen to Jews of Conscience”? As if Jews who are NOT “in solidarity with Palestinians” are incapable of, or are entitled to exemption from, listening to non-Jews when it comes to the human rights of non-Jews? I know that’s not what you meant, but it’s hard at times to “read” you when it feels like you start to walk into a room but then back out of it before you’ve finished painting the picture you had in your head.

    And you say: “Elisha moves on to more apolitical issues:,” and quote his poetic notions of a father generous toward others — hardly an “apolitical” set of images, given Wiesel was bereft of kindness to the people whose land he dishonestly, or delusionally, claimed for Jews.

    Marc, you call “Elisha’s remembrance of his father tragic.” It was certainly tragic his father took pride in ethnic cleansing of Palestine by European Jews who deceitfully call themselves “Israel” — as if taking that name for their terror-manufactured state of ’48 made them holier than any of the post-Enlightenment nation-states attempting to develop genuine social democracies in the modern era.

    A double irony claiming “Israel” as a divine-secular political identity, when history shows the people called Israel in an ancient holy book comprised an ancient tribe of polygamist warlords and their slaves and subordinates — not much more brutal and supremacist, in fact, than many Yankee/Southern Bible-thumping Christian elitists today who are all too happy to absolve nationalist Jews of accountability to the rest of the living human race if it will bring on “the Second Coming.”

    When Elisha earns characterization as “tragic” (as opposed to simply, or stubbornly, ill-informed) it will be when he stops worshipping an abstraction of a man whose example of manliness for his son involved letting his own humanity lie dormant within him because he preferred parroting Judaic scriptural phrases while lording it over an “other” tribe (of Palestinians, including Christians and Jews as well as Muslims and agnostics) whose homeland he and his supremacist ilk coveted and stole (and continue stealing) through killing, torture and lies, in blithe violation of key commandments of (supposedly) his scriptural God.

    “Honor thy father and thy mother,” btw, doesn’t mean say nice things about them so people regard you as a good obedient son. Or maybe it does? Did? Long, long ago …….. only way for the prince to win the crown. But a crown to what kingdom?

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