Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom

Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom

by Ariel Burger


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In the vein of Tuesdays with Morrie, a devoted protégé and friend of one of the world’s great thinkers takes us into the sacred space of the classroom, showing Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel not only as an extraordinary human being, but as a master teacher.

Witness is beautiful, and important . . . A superb piece of writing.” — Parker Palmer, best-selling author of The Courage to Teach  

The world remembers Elie Wiesel—Nobel laureate, activist, and author of more than forty books, including Oprah’s Book Club selection Night—as a great humanist. He passed away in July 2016.
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. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780358108528
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 10/22/2019
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 128,022
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

ARIEL BURGER is a teacher, writer, and artist whose work focuses on education, spirituality, the arts, and strategies for social change. An ordained rabbi, Ariel received his PhD in Jewish Studies and Conflict Resolution under Elie Wiesel. A lifelong student of Professor Wiesel, Ariel served as his Teaching Fellow from 2003-2008, after which he designed educational initiatives at several nonprofits. Ariel travels the world lecturing and serving as a scholar/artist-in-residence, facilitating workshops for educators and leaders, and consulting to creative organizations. When Ariel's not learning or teaching, he is creating music, art, and poetry. He lives outside of Boston with his family.

Table of Contents

A Note to the Reader ix

Introduction xi

1 Memory 1

2 Otherness 35

3 Faith and Doubt 71

4 Madness and Rebellion 109

5 Activism 143

6 Beyond Words 187

7 Witness 225

Postscript 253

Recommended Reading 257

Acknowledgments 261

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Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
JulieMT More than 1 year ago
What an incredibly beautiful book. “Witness” is a gift to the reader you don’t want to miss. The author, Ariel Burger was Elie Wiesel’s Student Teacher and Mentee. The book is the story of the time he shared with Elie Wiesel both in and out of the classroom. Part of the beauty of the book is not just the wisdom of Elie Wiesel which in itself is breathtaking, but also the author, Ariel Burger’s gentle wisdom. Like Wiesel’s, it is wisdom sprung from the courage to face the unknowable, and even at times the unthinkable. It is a wisdom that is most solid in its ability to bend under the weight of doubt. The lessons shared by both Elie Wiesel and Ariel Burger in “Witness” are so meaningful and relevant to today. Issues of hate, fanaticism, intolerance, and racism are front and center in the book. And while they are looked at unflinchingly, the reader is left not with despair, but with hope. For me, this hope has the power to lead us forward with grace beyond the ugliness of our times. I was privileged to receive a free advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the Publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review.
mweinreich More than 1 year ago
There are probably not that many people living in the modern world today who have not heard of Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz, where he witnessed more cruelty, more hatred, more indifference, and more death, including that of his entire family than this man. Going onto to be a great humanitarian, Mr Wiesel has influenced many from the common man to presidents and world leaders. In this fantastic book, Mr Wiesel is looked at by one of his former students, a person who is searching for the meaning of his Jewish faith and the relationship one has with God. As we explore with Mr Burger the words and actions of Elie Wiesel, we become students ourselves immersed in the wisdom of his words, of his ability to teach, not preach, of his joy in being the one thing he wanted most to be, a teacher. "What hurts the victim the most, is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander." In this story, Elie Wiesel encourages all of us to be that voice, that one person who stands and speaks out without fear of retribution, or fear of what others think and do. He weaves his faith, his belief in God, into words that inspire as well as help those of us who have so struggled with religion and the ravages it sometimes brings into the world it is suppose to make better. Growing up myself surrounded on all sides by a Catholic environment, I found myself somewhat adrift when relating to others outside of the faith that was pretty much drummed into me from a very young age. My religion frightened me as I was an extremely sensitive child, and the thoughts of beloved family members going to hell because they were not baptized made me sick with worry. So, in my own way, I have been searching for answers, the same as the author has been. "To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all." That is why we must stand up today. There is an enormous amount of hatred circling our world. It is squeezing the very life out of us and as we witness once again the recurrence of antisemitism, we can't stand silent. I have often thought of the term used..never again when referring to the Holocaust...and yet never again has happened in Darfur, Bosnia, and Rwanda to name just a few. Christians are being persecuted in Syria, Jews are being attacked, as I write these words and here we are not raising our voices as Mr Wiesel so adamantly wanted us to. Reading this book was an awakening for me. It made me realize the presence of God in our lives is the focus of our lives. It made me know that while I thought God was silent as the world has burned, God is not. He has allowed his human creation to become better. We haven't though and there is still time for us to be what Mr Wiesel wants us to be. "I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed, and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console." Thank you to Ariel Burger who wrote this inspiring book about his beloved teacher, to Houghton Miflin Harcourt for an advanced copy of this book, and to NetGalley. It is a book I will always remember... This book is in my top ten reads for the year, 2018. Pick it up, read it, and assimilate Elie Wiesel's words. It just may change you for the better.
Darcy714 More than 1 year ago
“And yet, if we always look into the abyss, we will be tempted by despair. Hope is a choice, and it is a gift we give to one another. It can be absurd. It does not rely on facts. It is simply a choice.” Witness, Chapter 5 Elie Wiesel has been regarded as one of the most influential voices of the Holocaust and those that survived it. However, Wiesel always saw himself and his true calling as that of a teacher, not a writer. In Witness, Ariel Burger, a student, then TA who came to be mentored by Wiesel over the years, provides an insight into the compassionate heart and intelligent mind of Wiesel as a teacher. Burger shows his own skill at writing as he depicts Wiesel in both lectures as well as intimate one on one conversations about life and the world he had the privilege of experiencing. From this Wiesel emerges as a man who truly cared for all who suffered, who would travel across the world to bear witness to those in need and then travel tirelessly after making every effort to reach those capable of stopping this suffering. Wiesel was a man who never seemed in a hurry despite a packed schedule and who had a gift for seeing to the heart of things. He had a weakness for chocolate and a love of the tales of his Hasidic faith and enjoyed dissecting literature not by its literary influences but by its humanitarian ones. Through Burger, we see why Wiesel was more than just an author of Night, but an endearing man who suffered unimaginable cruelties and spent his life trying to spare others from such sufferings. Though I had read Night in the past, I felt Witness made a deeper impact in seeing the man Wiesel became and that his students fell in love with. I had originally thought this might be a book like Tuesdays with Morrie, and there is some elements like that, but I would argue that Witness goes deeper. It strikes at the moral fiber and through it one hears the voice of Wiesel asking the difficult questions that encourage introspection. A book that will challenge the reader with trains of thought that linger long after the book is finished. A worthy read. Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
CRSK More than 1 year ago
”If it be your will That I speak no more And my voice be still As it was before I will speak no more I shall abide until I am spoken for If it be your will If it be your will That a voice be true From this broken hill I will sing to you From this broken hill All your praises they shall ring If it be your will To let me sing” -- If It Be Your Will, Leonard Cohen, Songwriters: Leonard Cohen / Patrick Leonard Instructions for life, or at least for living a life with meaning, words of thoughtful counsel shared through the mentorship, friendship and affection that Elie Wiesel had with his student and teaching assistant, Ariel Burger, along with many other students through the years. This was profoundly lovely, and reflective, with perhaps just a dusting of something along the lines of Tuesdays With Morrie added, without being overly sentimental. This isn’t a book of sadness, but rather of the joy that his wisdom can bring us. Twenty-five years of journal entries, five years of notes from the classroom, interviews with Wiesel’s students from around the world all went into this book. Burger met Elie Wiesel when he was a fifteen year-old young man, and most of the years that followed were spent with them in contact with one another. Sometimes often, other times, not as often. But since that first meeting, Burger considered him to be ”my mentor, my guide, and eventually my friend. He helped me steer my way through complex questions of identity, religion and vocation to a life of meaning I did not know was possible.” If you’re not familiar with Elie Wiesel, he was a professor at Boston University, a journalist, a writer – best known for his book Night – about the atrocities he lived through during the Holocaust, when he was young. Later in life and living in New York City, he taught at City College of New York, and then eventually at Boston University, where he was a professor, and where, eventually, Burger would also attend as a student. This manages to walk that fine line between overly sentimental and a somewhat quietly shared, honest and genuinely loving look at Wiesel’s life, the wisdom he shared, and how through this relationship both changed from knowing the other. There is so much respect, love, and genuine admiration in Burger’s sharing – but there are the stories of Eli Wiesel, as well. Not the ones he wrote about in his books, word for word, but his life, irrevocably changed, after the Holocaust, how it shaped him, and how he used that to teach us all how to be better at this thing called life. I’ve watched, and listened to interviews of Wiesel on television, in audio books, and much of this book is in his words, conversations, writings, but there is that other side from Burger that shows what a blessing learning from a man like Wiesel can bring, not only just to him and his students, but to everyone that takes the time to listen to what Elie Wiesel has to share. So many reasons to read this book, but let me leave you with this one, a quote that starts off the first chapter of this book: ”Listening to a witness makes you a witness. –Elie Wiesel” Be a witness. Many thanks for the ARC provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt