‘Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom’ | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

‘Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom’


Note: This event has been canceled.

Rabbi Ariel Burger, author of “Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom” published last year, will be the speaker at the sixth annual Edie Adelman Lecture on March 30, 2019.

Wiesel saw his core life mission as teaching, according to Burger, and that mission is an inspiration for Burger’s book.

The lecture will take place at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay, on March 30, 2020 at 7 p.m. It is a free event and is being organized by Women’s Philanthropy of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

The lecture will focus on the book’s message and how it relates to current events. A Jewish National Book Award winner, the book explores life lessons from Elie Wiesel by giving the reader a window into the intimacy of his classroom.

“It’s almost uncanny, the ways in which the specific questions with which he dealt, and specific tools he employed in answering those questions, are the same we are dealing with today,” says Burger of Wiesel, who died in 2016.

Those questions include how to have productive conversations with people who hold differing opinions, how to fight hatred without becoming consumed by the fight, and how to celebrate life while also addressing urgent issues in the community.

Wiesel famously authored “Night,” published in 1956, about his experiences at Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz and Buchenwald; won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986; and was a professor of humanities at Boston University for nearly four decades.

After meeting him at age 15, Burger went on to spend five years as Wiesel’s teaching assistant while earning a doctorate in Jewish Studies and Conflict Resolution at Boston University, forging a strong bond filled with searching conversations.

According to Burger, in interviews over the years, Wiesel would describe his core life mission as teaching, seeing his writing as an extension of that role. Wiesel “believed in the power of education to change history.”

“My hope is that everyone who reads the book will be more committed to memory – of the Holocaust, of history, of human experiences,” says Burger. “Practicing compassion, standing up for what’s right when you see someone bullied or marginalized. And a sense of hope in this troubling time we find ourselves in. Someone who went through the most extreme time of the Holocaust became a person of great joy and great hopefulness. Professor Wiesel taught us that hope is a choice.”

In addition to lecturing and leading workshops across the country, Burger also teaches Jewish studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Hillel and is the founding director of The Witness Institute, which is based upon Wiesel’s approach to learning.

Burger, who lives outside of Boston, grew up in New York in what he describes as “a very musical family.” Although he was initially uninterested in music, preferring the visual arts, when he was 16, his father came home with “a beautiful Fender Stratocaster” guitar, and Burger dedicated the next six months to learning the instrument. Since then, he remarks, “Playing guitar is something I have to do every day. It’s a spiritual practice.” In the late 1990s, he performed at Carnegie Hall alongside his father and legendary folk singer Richie Havens.

Burger and Wiesel shared a love of music. “He used music to communicate things that could not be communicated in words,” says Burger, noting that Wiesel would at times turn to singing in the classroom to convey a thought or feeling. “That’s something I’m struck by and remain interested in – how do we communicate things that transcend and go beyond language, something that can’t be captured in language?”


How to go:

What: The 6th Annual Edie Adelman Political Awareness Lecture, with Rabbi Ariel Burger.

Where: Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay.

Cost: Free.

When: Monday, March 30, 2020 at 7 p.m.

RSVP: MilwaukeeJewish.org/Edie