Last night, I had the opportunity to hear author, Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor and Human Rights Advocate Elie Weisel speak at The Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver. It was one of those rare evenings where you appreciate that you are experiencing something worthy of every bit of your energy and attention. We perched, all 2,780 + of us, on the edges of our seats, straining to catch each quiet, heavily accented word. Three quarters of the way through, they handed Wiesel another microphone and the crowd erupted in cheers, glad to hear him clearly, fully, at last.
 

Image courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver


Wiesel is best known for his book, “Night,” a firsthand account of the Holocaust in which his mother, sister and father all perish in concentration camps. I first read the slim, horror-filled volume a couple of years ago. Many of the passages still haunt me. It is important, but difficult, reading.
 
In an era where we put celebrities on pedestals and salivate over their trite advice, I found Elie’s words last night refreshing and on-target. Whatever your religious or political leanings, here is someone with something real to say. A man who experienced the atrocities of a Concentration Camp and lived to tell about it has an appreciation of life’s preciousness that most of us can only faintly grasp. On this day, when we remember a different horror, Elie’s thoughts about authenticity and community are both a welcome salve and a call to action.
 

A packed house. Image courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.


Below are a few of the ideas Elie Wiesel shared last night. There is no transcript, as yet, of this event. Anything outside of quotations is (a very careful) paraphrase and should not be treated as a direct quotation of Elie Wiesel, though the intention remains intact.
 
On writing:
 
After sleeping for only four hours, Wiesel rises early and spends the first four hours of his day writing fiction. The remainder is focused on non-fiction. Much of what he writes, he says, ends up in the wastebasket. Especially the writing he thinks is good: You can’t trust your own opinion of what is good. His preferred writing companion? Classical music, played by a quartet.
 
Wiesel feels it is his role to remember the atrocities and bring them to life so that people don’t forget: “If I don’t remember, I disappear.”
 
I had to write about my experience in the Holocaust or I would never have been able to write anything else.
 
All of my other books (he’s written 57) are jealous of “Night.”
 
When it comes to editing and good writing: One word is better than two words. One word is better than ten words.

 
On Almost Becoming the President of Israel:
 
“They hounded–hounded–me for six weeks to become the President. But I didn’t want to be the President of…anything.” I am not, and never have been, a politician, he says. All I know, all I have, are my words. If I became the President, my words would no longer belong to me.
 
On Life:
 
Life is not about years, it’s about moments. I collect moments. Some are sad, some glorious…
 
When asked what advice he would give to the younger generation:
 
“Think higher, feel deeper.”
 
Don’t treat other people as adversaries. Respect them. When you are out in your community, think higher, and when you are face to face with another human being, feel deeper.
 
Be more of whatever you are: be more Jewish, more Buddhist. Be authentic, in whatever you are trying to do, whatever you are trying to communicate. We are here for a very brief time. Do something remarkable with every moment.

Do any of Elie Wiesel’s words resonate with you? Do you think remembering and retelling the events of the Holocaust and 9/11 make us more compassionate human beings?

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