Editor’s Note: I’m honored to share this guest post from my friend and colleague Rabbi Abie Ingber, executive director of the Center for Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier University. I have taught Elie Wiesel’s book Night for some twenty years, reaching back to the high school classroom, and will not soon forget the first time I read the book myself as a teenager. May he rest in peace, and may we follow his North Star, as Rabbi Abie writes, “toward compassion, justice and peace.”
When African slaves charted their escape to freedom they used the North Star as their directional guide. Pilgrim guides on the Arabian peninsula used the same North Star as a compass for the Haj to Mecca.
Saturday our contemporary world lost its brightest North Star with the passing of our teacher, Elie Wiesel.
Elie was a beacon of light to give us direction toward compassion, justice and peace. Perhaps it is just coincidence that the brightness of his light first became visible in his autobiographical short work “Night.” Through his journey through the darkest of nights we began to see how memory can comfort when our eyes and hearts are seared by the crematoria of the death camps.
But Elie was not just the voice of the eyewitness, he was the prophetic beacon call challenging each and every one of us to see the suffering of every child in this world, to speak out against injustice and to labor tirelessly for peace.
Our relationship began while I was still in college. He became a mentor who inspired me to struggle for human rights. But my first private encounter came four decades ago at the urging of my teacher, Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, then president of Hebrew Union College. One evening at his home in Clifton, Dr. Gottschalk suggested I take Elie back to his room at HUC. When I seemed surprised at the honor, he looked at me and said, “I think you will have much to talk about.” Indeed we did and the outpouring of shared stories of the Holocaust and shared passion for peace and justice continued in many, many ways after that evening. The memories include the hours we spent alone in his New York apartment, interrupted only by a call from the White House.
But one moment stands out more than the others. In May 2000 Elie had come to town at the request of the University of Cincinnati, where I served for 30 years. I was his chaperone for two days, and my daughters had hours to spend with him. My youngest daughter and Elie became particularly close, and they held hands all the time. When we were at the airport waiting for his flight home, I left Elie and my 9 year old alone as I went off to buy a cup of coffee. As I was returning a stranger casually mentioned to me, “Look how lucky that little girl is to have Elie Wiesel as her grandfather.”
Indeed, that was who he was – a grandfather, a world-renowned author, an eyewitness, a Nobel Peace laureate, a prophetic voice and our North Star.