Finished Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger. I received a copy for review at ALA.
Summary (from Goodreads):
“Elie Wiesel was a towering presence on the world stage—a Nobel laureate, activist, adviser to world leaders, and the author of more than forty books, including the Oprah’s Book Club selection Night. But when asked, Wiesel always said, “I am a teacher first.”
In fact, he taught at Boston University for nearly four decades, and with this book, Ariel Burger—devoted protégé, apprentice, and friend—takes us into the sacred space of Wiesel’s classroom. There, Wiesel challenged his students to explore moral complexity and to resist the dangerous lure of absolutes. In bringing together never-before-recounted moments between Wiesel and his students, Witness serves as a moral education in and of itself—a primer on educating against indifference, on the urgency of memory and individual responsibility, and on the role of literature, music, and art in making the world a more compassionate place.
Burger first met Wiesel at age fifteen; he became his student in his twenties, and his teaching assistant in his thirties. In this profoundly thought-provoking and inspiring book, Burger gives us a front-row seat to Wiesel’s remarkable exchanges in and out of the classroom, and chronicles the intimate conversations between these two men over the decades as Burger sought counsel on matters of intellect, spirituality, and faith, while navigating his own personal journey from boyhood to manhood, from student and assistant, to rabbi and, in time, teacher.
“Listening to a witness makes you a witness,” said Wiesel. Ariel Burger’s book is an invitation to every reader to become Wiesel’s student, and witness.”
This book is one of the most profound things I have ever read, and that actually doesn’t do it justice.
When I was in college, my sociology professor said something along the lines of how we need to always believe that one person can make a difference in the world. “Look at Rosa Parks,” she said. And it’s true that one person can make a real, permanent difference, although most of us won’t. Elie Wiesel did, and he devoted his life to showing others how to do the same.
He told this to a student who survived Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe: “I told you in class that you must tell your story. This is because, if even one person learns from it how to be more human, you will have made your memories into a blessing. We must turn our suffering into a bridge so that others might suffer less.”
I have a friend who talks about her struggles with mental illness and I have always found her to be so eloquent and so brave in discussing something that still has a little bit of a stigma but she’s turning her suffering into a bridge. That’s a powerful and beautiful thing, and I admire that so much.
But Elie Wiesel turned his suffering into making the world more compassionate. This book—and the ones he wrote—serve as a call to arms. If he, and other survivors of the Holocaust, could still be open and compassionate while at the same time being fierce in protecting other people, what choice do any of us have but to do the same?
I needed this book. It’s a hard and scary time and we have to save each other. Highly recommended. Could everyone please read it so I have someone to discuss it with?