November 15, 2012

Elie Wiesel in Chicago

Many people mistake me for being Jewish, and I take pride in it. It’s not simply out of an affinity for a people who look like me (I’m Italian/Sicilian on both sides.), or the pride in food, family and fatherland. I share more with them, but it wasn’t until 30 minutes before hearing Elie Wiesel speak at the Symphony Center on November 11th and after his conversation that I realized it.

At about 9:30 a.m., a trio blared their way across Adams, down Michigan Ave. to the front of the building where people had gathered to enjoy a few minutes of November sun before the 10:00 event. The men in fatigues had a megaphone, blood-red flyers and HateSpeak to which they subjected the crowd. Now, they didn’t stand to the side or across the street as legitimate protestors would do: like Panzers rolling across Poland and France they bullied their way into our midst and spewed their venom of “Holohoax” and “Jew wars”. Several people were on phones immediately and the C.P.D. arrived within minutes. They were ushered away and we went into the hall.

Wiesel’s talk with Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune art critic and a son of Holocaust survivors, was personal, loving, humorous and sane. It was like sitting down with a grandparent, but not to listen to stories of “the good ol’ days” but to catch drops of divine wisdom from a man who has wrestled with God and with his fellow human beings.

His grand puzzle has been and still is: “The world knew. The world was silent.” How? And “In spite of God, I still believe.” How? And “Auschwitz didn’t come down from Heaven – it was made by human hands.” How?

His grand plan to ensure the Holocaust doesn’t happen again is through learning, listening and remembering. To bring a culture to appreciate the love of learning within an ethical structure (“philosophy with ethos”) is paramount.

Overall, I gleaned the grand gift of knowing that beyond ethnic, racial, gender, economic, religious issues lies the ultimate issue – the human, personhood, the common humanity I have because of my genetic make up, my Reason, my emotions and that spark of divinity which no dictator or hate-monger can steal or burn away.

The goal is not to study the Holocaust in a sterile academic or virtual environment, but to study, dissect, understand its roots, trunk, and poisonous fruit so that the Hitlers of past and present have no part in humanity’s future, save only that we remember.