24 Chapters
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4. Wiesel and the Stories of the Rabbis

Edited by Steven T Katz and Alan Rosen Indiana University Press ePub

REUVEN KIMELMAN

ELIE WIESEL IS OUR generation's teller of tales. He uses stories to keep alive Jewish memory. His retellings of tales are frequently better known than the original. More hasidic tales are probably known through his retelling than any since Martin Buber. Similarly, his recounting of biblical and talmudic narratives has done much to make them not only known but tellable. This essay focuses on his retelling of talmudic lore in his book Wise Men and Their Tales.1 There, he relates how much he was enamored of the intricacies of the Talmud, dazzled by the workings of its dialectics, flabbergasted by its ruthless honesty, piqued by its arcane tales, amazed at its pious yet flawed characters, and astonished at its incessant questioning. Identifying with its nonfinality, he is taken in by its open-endedness as well as taken aback by its strangeness. For him, the Talmud is the spine of Judaism, without which we would have gone limp long ago. It is what kept Jews upright, walking tall throughout their lachrymose history. Without it, the spiritual reality would have succumbed to the material one.

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19. Améry, Levi, Wiesel: The Futility of Holocaust Testimony

Edited by Steven T Katz and Alan Rosen Indiana University Press ePub

THE FUTILITY OF HOLOCAUST TESTIMONY

ALVIN H. ROSENFELD

THE OBLIGATION TO record and remember is a constant in the literature of testimony and, more than anything else, defines its character and purpose. Jews suffering under the Nazi siege, lacking significant arms and allies, sought recourse in the only form of resistance available to most of them: the written word. They knew it would not save lives, but believed it would assure that those going to their deaths would not be forgotten.

Were they right? A close reading of Jean Améry, Primo Levi, and Elie Wiesel shows a significant strain of authorial doubt regarding the efficacy of Holocaust testimony. All three have given us exceptionally important work about the Nazi crimes against the Jews. At the end of their careers, however, Améry and Levi came to believe their writings lacked decisive effect, if not, indeed, were fated to fail altogether. While sometimes recording similar moments of doubt, Wiesel, by contrast, has avoided becoming ultimately despondent. What has kept him from succumbing to the sense of futility that oppressed Améry and Levi and has enabled him to continue writing into his eightieth year? These are some of the questions I want to raise and try to answer in this essay.

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7. Yearning for Sacred Place: Wiesel's Hasidic Tales and Postwar Hasidism

Edited by Steven T Katz and Alan Rosen Indiana University Press ePub

WIESEL'S HASIDIC TALES AND POSTWAR HASIDISM

NEHEMIA POLEN

IN SOULS ON FIRE,1 Elie Wiesel begins his chapter on the School of Pshiskhe with the story of Eizik son of Yekel of Kraków, who dreams of treasure in Prague, but after his journey discovers that the treasure is really to be found in his own home.2 The point of the story is not, as is sometimes suggested, that since the treasure you seek is really already inside of you, you don't need to make the journey, nor even that you need to make the journey in order to discover that the truth is inside you. Recall that, as Wiesel writes, Rabbi Simha-Bunam of Pshiskhe would tell this story each time he accepted a new disciple.3 Rabbi Bunam did accept disciples; he did not send them all back home where they came from. Apparently Rabbi Bunam wanted precisely those disciples who realized that they didn't have to be there, who knew that their spiritual growth was in their own hands, not in those of the master they had sought out. The tale reflects on the School of Pshiskhe, its culture and values, the independence and boldness of spirit it sought to cultivate. In this understanding, the story and the journey, the tale of the rabbi of Pshiskhe and his disciples, each inform the other, reflect the other, interrogate the other, assist in defining the other.

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13. The Trauma of History in the Gates of the Forest

Edited by Steven T Katz and Alan Rosen Indiana University Press ePub

THE GATES OF THE FOREST

VICTORIA AARONS

Names…still hovering, like memories…and they will return to haunt their dreams.

The Gates of the Forest

IN THE OPENING SCENE of Elie Wiesel's stunning novel The Gates of the Forest, a boy, in hiding from the Nazis, fortuitously meets another Jew, “like himself, fleeing from fate,” seeking refuge in the forests of Transylvania.1 Left in the sanctuary of the forest by his father, the seventeen-year-old Gregor finds himself sequestered in a profound isolation, all the more searing because of the sure knowledge that his family has perished. Terribly alone, hunted by the Hungarian police, who, with attack dogs, seek his precarious refuge in one of the many caves in the forest, Gregor finds himself living “outside time,” isolated not only from the compassionate embrace of others, but from the benevolent intercession of a world beyond him.2 Cloistered in the cave, Gregor is conditionally safe, but the interior of the cave also functions metaphorically as a temporary, projected defense of his traumatized subjectivity. In his isolated, contained location, hidden precariously from those who hunt him, Gregor is both a victim of history and “bypassed by history,” unnoticed by the world beyond the ravages of Nazi terror and destruction, a devastation unleashed within the ruins of Europe and within the geopolitical instability that motivates war and its depredations.3

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22. Toward a Methodology of Wonder

Edited by Steven T Katz and Alan Rosen Indiana University Press ePub

ARIEL BURGER

RABBI HANOCH HENICH of Alexander told the story of a man who was so forgetful that, when he awoke in the morning, he didn't know what to do with the strange things he found in his room. Every morning saw him painstakingly trying to determine what each item of clothing was for, looking them up in research books, and finally putting them on correctly. One day he decided to label everything in his house. The next morning, he woke up and looked around. Following the labels’ instructions, he dressed. He recognized a chair from its note and sat on it. As he was leaving, his eye fell on the mirror by the door. He looked in the mirror, and, bewildered, whispered, “But who am I?”1

The topic of Elie Wiesel's approach to education is marked by urgency, and the question of how precisely he inspires, educates, and awakens students is not merely academic. For his self-described task as a teacher for over three decades has been nothing less than to quicken minds, and to fight for memory, the searing memory that transforms and that may serve as guardian and barrier against the darkness within men.

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