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How formulate words around the life of Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016) who, in dialog with his God, fully individuated himself within the warp and woof of his global community? Left a legacy of printed words that still fire imaginations and challenge the moral fiber of his readers?

Such is the task I set myself after completing Elie Wiesel’s second memoir,And The Sea is Never Full, 1969 -1999.

His lifelong study of the Torah and the Talmud imbued his witness, his writing, and his teaching in lecture halls and international venues. Like Jeremiah of the Old Testament, he was passionate, fully sensitive to the worlds within and around him. Words, written and later spoken, became his métier. Yet silence obliterated any foray into his death camp experiences: they remained inexpressible: referred to as “it.” Yet, paradoxically, “it” fueled his rich imagination with stories and assuaged his psychic wound. Those privy to his spiritual depths relished his unique vision: living with unanswered questions before the silence of God.

In his memoir, Wiesel also reproduced parts of significant dialogs and lectures that reveal the breath of his wisdom and his attunement to his listeners. Dreams of his deceased family, in italics, also showed his respect for his unconscious, ever guiding him toward wholeness. He was also not without wry humor in his admission of foibles. So beneath this world citizen lived a simple man of passion who loved being husband to Marion and father to Elisha.

Yet Elie Wiesel’s witness to hatred, under the guise of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and fanaticism, still flourishes—but not to worry. He has passed the baton on to us, with its imperative to root out such vestiges within our psyches. There is hope.

 

 

 

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It all began on the chartered buses. Sizzling energy loosed introductions, stories, and prayer among the protesters, traveling from St. Louis, Missouri, to Washington, D.C. One of them was a ninety-four-old widow, supported by two canes, who had attended all the Marches for Life since their inception in 1974. The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion in Roe vs. Wade still irks many.

The morning began with Mass at the downtown Holy Rosary Catholic Church, followed by the cafeteria-style-breakfast in a nearby government building. It would be a rigorous day. Brilliant sunshine spirited the protesters’ steps toward meetings with their Missouri Representatives and later with their senators.

Rallied in front of a large screen at the National Mall, the protesters then thrilled with warm remarks from President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Three others also spoke from the main stage.

Then an estimated half-million protesters began the long march down Constitution Avenue toward the Supreme Court building. Singing, praying, bands playing, banners and placards waving, they made their way—a moral force to be reckoned with.

Synchronistically, that very day, the House passed a bill ordering abortionists to provide medical care to babies should they survive. An observer was heard to say: “I guess this is some kind of progress, but look what our country’s come to. Like slavery in the South—Like if the master failed to kill his slave but then was legally compelled to tend his wounds—Amounts to the same thing.”

The impact of the day quieted the protesters as they returned to St. Louis. They would never forget.

 

 

January’s bluster mandates thermal underwear, bulky sweaters and scarves, fur-lined boots, and so much more. Shopping, working, even walking in the chill, fill our days, all made bearable between lengthening sun-filled days. Fortunate are our circumstances enabling us to brave the onslaught of winter.

But not so in other parts of the world where others hunger for warmth, where winter’s bite congeals spirits and hastens physical death.

An extreme example of this is found in the life of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008). In 1962 the Soviet magazine Novy Mir published his slim novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, its protagonist drawn from his experience as a bricklayer in one of the Gulag slave labor camps in Siberia. There, the extremes of nature exacerbated the extremes of men.

It is January 1951, five o’clock in the morning; twenty-seven degrees below zero, another work day for Shukov, as Ivan is called, and the five hundred prisoners in Hut 6. The ragged noise of the hammer awakening them is “… muffled by ice two fingers thick on the windows.”

Atop his bunk, aching and shivering, Shukov considers the sickbay, but thinks better of it and joins his Gang 104 for skilly (gruel) and twenty grams of bread in the mess hall; then, to the work parade in the midway for the first of many searches and counting throughout the day by armed guards; then, five abreast, hands behind their backs, they trudge to the construction site and work until dark; then, the final search, more gruel, and lights out. Never is there respite from the killing chill. “Thanks to be to Thee, O God, another day over!” Shukov says.

It was precisely this spirit that empowered Solzhenitsyn to survive the horrors of the Gulag. Through his later writings and lecturing around the world, he manifested the evils of the Soviet ideology. He still teaches us much.

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