The news was succinct: "Elie Wiesel, the Auschwitz survivor who became an eloquent witness for the six million Jews slaughtered in World War II and who, more than anyone else, seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world's conscience, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87."
When I heard the news, I teared up just as I did when I had heard that Nelson Mandel has passed December 5th, 2013, at the age of 95.
There have been many many tragic events and public persons who passed in the last decades whose lives have caused me to pause and reflect.
But, Eli Wiesel's passing, to me, provoked years of embedded grief that occasionally surface when I think of Martin Luther King Jr., or the three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner murdered by the Klan in Philadelphia, the killing of parishioners in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a Bible study meeting
in Charleston June 17, 2015, the earlier shooting of children in Newton, and, more recently, the wanton carnage in Orlando, and the monthly gun deaths in Chicago and other Black communities nationwide.
Eli Wiesel, however, was our guardian, our lighthouse, our keeper of the world's conscience. He was something special to me, even though I never met him, as I know he was to so so many others.
Regrettably, there were efforts during the past two years of persons who tried to arrange for me to meet him. Not meeting him and speaking with him personally will always be an irreplaceable lost opportunity.
Then, I reflected on something I had filed away about Eli Wiesel in my research data base. It was the text of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech December 11, 1986. It is in the same folder where I keep the text of Rabbi Joachim Prinz, President of the The American Jewish Congress' speech at the August 28th, 1963 March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom.
In his Nobel Peace Prize speech Eli Wiesel said:
I have tried to keep memory alive (of the Holocaust), I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices... I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment -- become the center of the universe.
There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention: victims of hunger, of racism, and political persecution, writers and poets, prisoners in so many lands governed by the Left and by the Right. Human rights are being violated on every continent. More people are oppressed than free.
One person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.
When I read this I also could hear in my head the lyrics from the Ray Charles song "None of Us Are Free":
There are voices still calling across the year
And they're all crying across the ocean
And they're crying across the land
And they will till we all come to understand
None of us are free(when)
one of us are chained
None of us are free
We got try to feel for each other
Let our brothers know that we care
Got to get the message, send it out loud and clear.
And, I will never forget the stirring words of Rabbi Joachim Prinz:
When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.
A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder. America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent.
In the history of our world, there are certain persons in our 20th and 21st centuries, like Eli Wiesel, whose lives are epochal milestones: Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandel, Mother Theresa, for example.
Although, I did not know Eli Wiesel personally, I, and my generation of African-Americans, have been the beneficiaries of his work and that of so so many Jewish persons who share his deep commitment to Israel and the memory of the Holocaust experience. And, yes, in the same Nobel speech cited above he also said:
There are the Palestinians to whose plight I am sensitive but whose methods I deplore. Violence and terrorism are not the answer. Something must be done about their suffering, and soon. I trust Israel, for I have faith in the Jewish people. Let Israel be given a chance, let hatred and danger be removed from her horizons, and there will be peace in and around the Holy Land.
I have repeatedly spoken and written about the coalition between the Jewish and African-American communities that transformed America on the issue of civil rights, ending American Apartheid. It was this coalition that enabled the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights Bills.
Those of us who mourn the passing of Eli Wiesel, especially non-Jews, must rededicate ourselves to fighting, without qualification, the resurgent anti-Semitism in several parts of our nation, and college campuses. Our failure to do so will dishonor the legacy of this extraordinary keeper of the the world's conscience.
Like Eli Wiesel, we must say to opportunists' racists politicians and civil rights hustlers: NEVER AGAIN. NOT NOW. EVER.
Long live Eli Wiesel!