What Elie Wiesel Taught Me About Today's Politics
For nearly half a century, Elie Wiesel has been an inspirational beacon of our people’s most precious values.
I first saw Wiesel speak in 1968, when he was a 40 year-old activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry. I had just finished my undergraduate thesis on “The Jews of the Soviet Union Since the End of World War II.” Wiesel’s book, The Jews of Silence was a primary source of my research.
Fifteen years later in Baltimore, I gave the invocation at an event where I again heard Wiesel speak. I treasure the fact that he complimented me on my presentation, and he said something that evening that I have remembered ever since.
“It says in Pirke Avot (3:1), Keep in mind three things: from whence you came, to where you are going, and before whom we must eventually render account. And which of these is the most important for us Jews? From whence we came! Every Jew should always know that he or she came from Sinai. And before we came from Sinai we came from slavery and oppression.”
From that day to this, he has endeavored to teach that the most important lesson we learn from Sinai is this: “We must not remain indifferent to the suffering of others. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.”
Even amidst the danger Jews face in Israel and in many places around the world, we must not be indifferent to the suffering of others. Today, our Muslim cousins are suffering, and we must do what we can to relieve their pain.
Yes, there are radical elements in the Muslim world. We see their terrorism, and we hear their barbaric rhetoric – but they do not represent vast majority of Muslim in the world, who want the same things we want for ourselves and our children and our grandchildren.
They want a world where people live in peace and harmony. They want a world where people have houses that protect them from the heat, the cold the wind and the rain. They want good food for their children to eat.
Because we have been refuges and stranger, we know the heart of the stranger. That’s why many people I know are disturbed that presidential candidate Donald Trump and others have, in recent weeks, called specifically for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
The wretched example of a few radical Muslims who promote terror does not warrant such wholesale discrimination – and we Jews, of all people, know what such discrimination is like.
In the thirties, Father Charles Coughlin took to the airwaves with a rabidly anti-Semitic message. Finally, the Catholic Church officially silenced him.
When I was a young boy, Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaign ruined the lives of many an innocent person. Finally, Congress censured him.
We Jews should be in the forefront of those who repudiate bigotry and hatred. Calls for discrimination against Muslims, like the words of Coughlin and McCarthy, should have no place in our public discourse.
In the face of evil the Torah commands all people of good will, “You shall not remain indifferent.” (Deuteronomy 22:3) As Elie Wiesel taught, the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.