Elie Wiesel to Wes: “Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By.”

As previously reported on this blog and The Wesleyan Connection, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and acclaimed writer and speaker Elie Wiesel spoke to a packed Memorial Chapel yesterday evening. The lecture, titled “The Death Penalty and Human Dignity,” was simulcast in the CFA Hall, Beckham Hall, and the Goldsmith Family Cinema. Wiesel was introduced by Rabbi David Leipziger Teva and President Roth, who commented: “He goes on telling the story, he goes on teaching, he goes on writing. Because he sees the work is not yet accomplished.”

Wiesel spoke thoughtfully and powerfully—with grace and, not infrequently, surprising and sharp wit—on his opposition to the death penalty, his belief in “building an ethical society,” and the power of education.

He culled stories from the Old Testament, and from his own staggering life story as a Holocaust survivor. He mentioned his past visits to Wesleyan, over thirty years ago, and joked that he never expected to hear Hasidic stories from the president of a school called Wesleyan. He answered a select handful of questions from students—on his view towards the death penalty, on how to respond to Holocaust deniers when there are no living Holocaust survivors left, on how students can go about changing the world (answer: “Information must be transformed into knowledge, knowledge into sensitivity, and sensitivity into commitment”).

And he repeated, as a Holocaust survivor, a human rights activist, and a witness of mass human genocide and cruelty, his personal mantra and commandment, from Leviticus: “Thou shalt not stand idly by.”

Stephen H. Devoto, over at the Middletown Eye blog, offers an excellent write-up on the lecture, complete with further images of the Chapel and direct quotes from Wiesel’s speech. Thanks—again—to B’nai B’rith Lecture Bureau for organizing this extraordinary opportunity.

(Image by Brian Stewart, via the Middletown Eye)

10 thoughts on “Elie Wiesel to Wes: “Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By.”

  1. Anonymous

    Guy, having heard him speak at the Shapiro Writing Center discussion, it seems that he always tried to use the simplest and most understandable words possible. “Old Testament” is just used more often than a slightly more head-scratching phrase like “Hebrew Scriptures”.

    Regardless of whether or not he was RIGHT about using the term, he was being SMART.

    And who’s to say that the Jews can’t somehow reclaim the quasi-derogatory “Old Testament”? Personally, I’m PROUD of my/our holy book predating Hellenism and having such a long life…

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  3. student

    Considering his lecture about the death penalty, I would be curious to hear his feelings about the Nuremburg and Eichmann Trials…

  4. student

    All of the stories mentioned and told at last nights’ lecture were not from the Hebrew Bible, per say, but the Talmud – a commentary on biblical text.

    to Viva Palestina-
    Though you are entitled to your beliefs, calling the State of Israel an “apartheid state,” which engages in the “illegal and racist occupation of Palestine” is biased, dramatic, and incorrect. I encourage you to also make attempts at better understanding Israel. Only when both sides learn compassion for each other, and a commitment is made by neighboring nations that peace will be even a remote possibility.
    Viva Israel, and Viva Peace.

  5. Viva Palestina

    While Elie Wiesel speaks with an admirable passion for peace, justice and morality, he continues to be a supporter of the apartheid state of Israel, and has never sufficiently answered to the accusations of hypocrisy in simultaneously supporting an end to oppression and the continued illegal and racist occupation of Palestine. I hope to see Wiesel gather a deeper analysis of what it means to truly support peace, and apply his beliefs in a more consistent manner in calling for an end to the Israeli occupation.

    1. Anonymous

      Wiesel in his Buchenwald speech said that he deplores the Palestinians’ suffering, but cannot condone usage of violence. I don’t exactly see what’s so insane about that opinion, as both many Israelis and Palestinians seems to agree.

      Please don’t try to pretend that the real oppression isn’t the cruel Hamas regime, which will kill for the heinous crimes of singing for a wedding in public, or will evacuate a park and explode it because a woman was ONCE seen smoking there…

      In comparison, Israeli (note I do not use “Jewish” because there are Druze and others serving in the Israeli army) soldiers have a law that prohibits eating or smoking before Arabs in the territories during Ramadan. Yes, there are soldiers who have called Palestinians “animals” to their face, and who have sometimes shot and asked questions later…or never…, but they HAVE been punished accordingly by the ones in charge, and demoted for it.

      Elie Wiesel says that he trusts Israel. A well-placed trust, given how you yourself would ignore the significantly more racist Palestinian Authority that harasses and tortures gays and Christians. Guess which is the country that gives them shelter from these Islamist regimes, and gives them equal rights to all other citizens? Certainly not many of the neighboring Arab countries, who in past wars have tried to smack down as many civilian centers in Israel as possible…

      …it’s Israel, which has significant Arab communities that are better enfranchised and have higher life expectancy than many other similar communities in said areas.

      When people like the members of Hamas and yourself learn to love your children more than you hate Israel, all will be well. Thus spoke Golda Meir. You want my sources, I’ll give them. Sorry if this is off-topic, but I know how to kill that post and kill it well, so as to bring this discussion to an end.

  6. Guy

    The old testament is a derogative term. It implies that it is outdated. The correct term is the Hebrew Bible. I am going to write a wespeak.

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