We were inundated with letters and notes after Elie's death. Here are a few thoughts and cherished memories from our readers.
Elie Wiesel was a brilliant writer and humanitarian without equal. With his passing, the world is a little bit darker, the air a little bit thicker and the stars a little less bright. There was no one else like him.
It was 30 years ago this past July, back when I was a teenager, when I met Elie Wiesel. I had been invited to Washington, DC to accept the first-place award in a national essay contest sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. I was asked to read a short excerpt from my essay, and then Elie Wiesel presented me with a signed copy of his book, Night/Dawn/Day, a handshake and a kind smile. When I look now at the pictures, what I think about is that I have been lucky to have seen the face of true greatness.
I first met Elie Wiesel in 1984 while I was still with Oxfam America and lamented that there was no Jewish organization working on a non-sectarian basis with the poor of the world. I had a name for the organization and a mission statement but little else. Elie understood immediately when I told him that I encountered fellow Jews in the remotest and poorest communities on earth. We were doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres, humanitarian relief workers, journalists, human rights monitors and antiapartheid activists. We were present but we were silent Jews--there not as Jews but because we were Jews. Elie then told me a story about the time he traveled to a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. In a few days, it would be the Yahrzeit of one of his parents. Where, he asked, among refugees from the killing fields of Pol Pot, would he find his minyan? How would he recite the Kaddish? Slowly, word spread that nine other Jewish men were needed. Slowly, they came forward from the international aid organizations and the international press. In a refugee camp, Elie had his minyan and a community of Jews. As we sat together, I knew that the American Jewish World Service would come into being.
Founding president of AJWS
As I stood off to the wings, I looked out into the audience of 1,300 in the marbled college chapel, murmuring, anticipating someone bigger, more consequential than themselves. Someone who had experienced inexplicable horrors and survived to give voice to the human condition. But first, they would get me...