WINNER OF THE NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD—BIOGRAPHY
Elie Wiesel was a towering presence on the world stage—a Nobel laureate, activist, adviser to world leaders, and the author of more than forty books, including the Oprah’s Book Club selection Night. But when asked, Wiesel always said, “I am a teacher first.”
In fact, he taught at Boston University for nearly four decades, and with this book, Ariel Burger—devoted protégé, apprentice, and friend—takes us into the sacred space of Wiesel’s classroom. There, Wiesel challenged his students to explore moral complexity and to resist the dangerous lure of absolutes. In bringing together never-before-recounted moments between Wiesel and his students, Witness serves as a moral education in and of itself—a primer on educating against indifference, on the urgency of memory and individual responsibility, and on the role of literature, music, and art in making the world a more compassionate place.
Burger first met Wiesel at age fifteen; he became his student in his twenties, and his teaching assistant in his thirties. In this profoundly thought-provoking and inspiring book, Burger gives us a front-row seat to Wiesel’s remarkable exchanges in and out of the classroom, and chronicles the intimate conversations between these two men over the 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.
“Listening to a witness makes you a witness,” said Wiesel. Ariel Burger’s book is an invitation to every reader to become Wiesel’s student, and witness.
Burger, a teacher and rabbi, gives readers a glimpse into the wisdom of Elie Wiesel in this chronicle of his years as Wiesel's student and teaching assistant. Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, writer, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was also a skilled educator, as Burger's admiring account shows. The unpacking of Wiesel's teaching methods is the book's best contribution to Wiesel's legacy. Current, former, and future educators will love the glimpses into Wiesel's practices, such as the way he guided discussions on difficult but important topics the tensions between faith and doubt, the relationship between rebellion and madness, and effective strategies for activism and the personal attention he lavished on students. The book is weaker, however, when Burger tells his own story and when it rehashes elements of Wiesel's philosophy and wisdom that can be better found in Wiesel's own words in the many books he wrote. Still, Burger's love for Wiesel, both professional and personal, shines through, and the reader will walk away with renewed admiration for this remarkable scholar, writer, survivor, and teacher.