For those who love a good book, UJA-Federation of New York has announced its Westchester Writer Series, “Three Books, Three Writers and Three Stories,” presenting newly released publications for those looking for insightful reads and the chance to hear the authors share thoughts about their work.
Rabbi Dr. Ariel Burger’s book, “Witness: Lessons From Elie Wiesel’s Classroom,” the first presentation in the three-part series, was held on January 23 at Young Israel of Scarsdale. Caren Hammerman, YIS and event committee member, in introducing Dr. Burger, noted that the book was the recipient of the National Jewish Book Award in the biography category. She told the audience, “I enjoyed the book tremendously and savored its wisdom and insights. Ariel’s book gives us an intimate window into the remarkable exchanges he had both in and out of the classroom with Elie Wiesel, who we all know gave a voice to Holocaust survivors through his acclaimed memoir ‘Night.’”
Burger was 15 when he first met Wiesel when his dad took him to the 92nd Street Y in New York City to hear Wiesel speak. While completing his PhD at Boston University, where Wiesel taught for nearly four decades, Burger began working as Wiesel’s teaching assistant. Burger’s book, written with deep affection for his revered mentor, describes Wiesel’s student-centered method of teaching, where Wiesel wanted students to share their ideas with him rather than lecture to them. He challenged students to think and question and motivated them to recognize and honor diversity. Over the span of a 40-year teaching career, Wiesel never repeated a syllabus. Assigned readings were multidisciplinary, including teachings from diverse individuals such as Sigmund Freud, Euripides, Albert Camus and other literary giants.
Burger emphasized the importance Wiesel placed on learning, “which prevented him from total despair.” Having lost his mother and sister in Auschwitz by the time he was 20, he then lived through the heartbreaking experience of his father’s death following their transfer to Buchenwald. Along with hundreds of Jewish youth, he was placed in a French orphanage after the camps were liberated. When asked what could be done for him, while others asked for candy or clothing, Wiesel requested a volume of Talmud, so that he could continue his studies. A Nobel Peace Prize recipient and author of acclaimed books about the Holocaust, Wiesel was a humble man who sought to make a difference in the world.
Burger is a rabbi, author, teacher and artist. He completed his PhD at Boston University in Jewish studies and conflict resolution under Wiesel. Recipient of a Covenant Foundation grant, Burger is currently developing integrated arts and educational programs for adults. As an author, in addition to his book about Wiesel, Burger has published essays on creativity, spirituality and leadership. He is also an accomplished artist, whose works have been exhibited throughout North America and Israel.
Lynda Cohen Loigman’s book “The Wartime Sisters,” the second book in the series, will be presented and discussed on Monday, February 11, at Congregation B’nai Yisrael, 2 Banksville Road, Armonk, New York, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.
The final presentation will be “The Button Man” by Andrew Gross, to be held at Temple Israel Center, 280 Old Mamaroneck Road, White Plains, New York, on Tuesday, April 9, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
By Yvette Finkelstein