Review: Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger

This book was exactly what I was seeking with Elie Wiesel’s memoirs: it summarises Wiesel’s concise teachings on keeping history alive through morality and vulnerability. You’re guaranteed to leave Ariel Burger’s Witness with a changed perspective.

Ariel Burger first met Elie Wiesel at age fifteen. They studied together and taught together. Witness chronicles the intimate conversations between these two men over decades, as Burger sought counsel on matters of intellect, spirituality, and faith, while navigating his own personal journey from boyhood to manhood, from student and assistant to rabbi and, in time, teacher.

In this profoundly hopeful, thought-provoking, and inspiring book, Burger takes us into Elie Wiesel’s classroom, where the art of listening and storytelling conspire to keep memory alive. As Wiesel’s teaching assistant, Burger gives us a front-row seat witnessing these remarkable exchanges in and out of the classroom. The act of listening, of sharing these stories, makes of us, the readers, witnesses.

Witness 1-- bookpsoilsTo start off each part, the author’s stories are interspersed throughout, which made for a well-paced read regarding the bond shared between Elie Wiesel and Ariel Burger.witness 9-- bookspoils

Wiesel comes to provide the home described above in the pages of this book. Like put so well in explaining the meaning of ezer k’negdo:

witness 10-- bookspoilsHe continues to write: “What does it mean to disagree for the sake of the other rather than in order to defeat or silence the other?” Such grandiose ideas to wrap my head around.

I consider it to be a good sign if a book makes me stop every few pages or so to run and share the information I just read with the people surrounding me. Witness makes for an excellent book discussion.

And since this was such an honest and vulnerable read, it feels only right to make my review as such, as well. From sharing the many rabbinical and Hasidic tales that populated Elie Wiesel’s childhood, to discussing the age-old question, “must art emerge from suffering?”; keeping memory alive through reading; Judaism; fanaticism… There are so many thought-provoking ideas introduced through Wiesel’s words that, in order to hold on to them all, I felt like being in one of those money blowing machines*, trying desperately to grasp on to even one fundamental thought so it won’t escape me with time. The amount of notes I took from this book is a bit over the top…

*I’m, of course, referring to one of these bad boys:

So, let’s jump right into the good stuff:

  • When attending one of Elie Wiesel’s lectures becomes a life-changing notion:Witness 2-- bookpsoils This put exactly into words why I make sure to read up on survivor testimonies, instead of reading the words of the enemy.

Witness 4-- bookpsoils

  • When discussing the misuse of music and “why knowing the history of works of art is important.” He continues to discuss, in the passage below, how he personally “would not go to a concert of Wagner’s music…”witness 3-- bookspoilsI feel so grateful to see someone address this in writing!!!! Nowadays, people boycott modern public figures left and right for their inappropriate nature but seldom hold up “classic” figures to the same actions… So I was beyond relieved to finally read this passage in black and white on paper. Ever since I listened to a life-changing lesson on the so-called “geniuses” of Western culture (Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Voltaire, and many more) and exposing their utter immoral natures, I make sure to check if what I’m consuming was created “in the service of humanity or its opposite…”
  • Expanding upon the opening quote of “listening to a witness makes you a witness,” which completely flipped my worldview around.

Witness 6-- bookpsoils

  • I appreciate how included we felt in the class discussions, each covering through such wide-ranging questions. The movement is rapid from student to student, and we follow it expertly like a ping pong match. Pages flew by when heated topics were introduced, or simply hearing the tales of Wiesel’s childhood.

Witness 7-- bookpsoils

The stories that were chosen to be included in here have not left my mind. Including, this short on sanity:Witness 5-- bookpsoils

And this brilliant take on keeping memory alive within us:

witness 8-- bookspoils

  • This last one is so important and personal to me because of the hidden meaning of birds:witness 11-- bookspoils

There’s so much more I highlighted and would love to share but it all boils down to this: Elie Wiesel was a bright soul put on this earth; we need more people like him in our time. I was beyond disheartened to learn that he had passed away in 2016. Zichrono Livracha.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: November 13th, 2018

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Witnessjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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