Elie Wiesel is dead. He leaves a decidedly mixed legacy. He was initially a sainted Holocaust survivor, international moral witness to depravity, captivating storyteller; later he morphed into a Palestine denier, settler advocate, Iranophobe and right-wing apologist for Israel.
When I was 12 or 13, my congregation Rabbi Henry Sosland, would drive me to hear him speak at synagogues in Rockland County (NY) where I grew up. He was a mesmerizing raconteur, a profound Jewish moral witness with charisma beyond measure. As an audience member, you felt under a spell of brilliance, drama, and pathos.
Then he won the Nobel Prize, which reinforced his moral stature. Later, he had the brilliant moral chutzpah to lecture Pres. Reagan about the evils of the commemorating the SS at Bitburg. He inaugurated the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
Much later, his views turned parochial. He joined the worst of the pro Israel apologists groups, supported Judaizing and ethnically cleansing Jerusalem. Joined Alan Dershowitz in denouncing Iran. Where his speeches and pronouncements were once jewels of moral clarity, he became a parody of what he had once been. He turned his moral capital into dross with each new stance he took repudiating his earlier ecumenism and internationalism.
Then he was caught up in the Bernie Madoff scandal having invested most of his savings and foundation assets in the Ponzi scheme. As his economic plight became clear, he was reduced to a figure of pity. A sad retreat from the quiet but valiant prophet he had once been.
A slow, sad decline into irrelevance…