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Vayeshev 5782 ~ November 26, 2021

In many ways, Chanukah represents our ability to express our Jewishness and our right to our Jewish expression. I look forward to celebrating with you Chanukah at Ocean Beach on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m.

Celebrating together as a community, as well as placing our candles in the windows of our homes, provides those who see them from the street a wonderful opportunity to understand the pride of who we are as Jews. 

Recently, a colleague of mine, Rabbi Amy Wallk from Temple Beth El, in Springfield, MA. Rabbi Wallk had visited the National Cathedral. As many of us do when we visit historic sites, we read the signage. As she read the words related to the newly installed bust of Elie Wiesel, she noticed that there was no mention of his Jewishness. She was somewhat disappointed, both as a Jew and as an American.

As we celebrate both Thanksgiving weekend and Chanukah, Rabbi Wallk gives us reason to be proud. It allows us to sense the Jewish and American pride that we all feel. We are grateful to my colleague for what she did following her visit. 

As I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom, a Happy Thanksgiving weekend, and a Happy Chanukah, I share her thoughts with you.

A  few weeks ago, I wrote an email about a bust remembering Elie Wiesel at the National Cathedral. 

That column has just changed the way the bust is being represented…

As you may recall in late October, I was in Washington, D.C. and visited the newly-presented Elie Wiesel bust at the National Cathedral. At the time I was surprised that there was no mention of the fact that Elie Wiesel was Jewish and that he lived his life as an observant and committed Jew. I was especially surprised because the other individuals who are honored alongside Wiesel are Mother Teresa and Jonathan Myrick Daniels. In these instances, the signage tells us Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic nun, and Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal divinity school student. My immediate response was: Why wasn’t it mentioned that Elie Wiesel was Jewish?

After speaking with colleagues and friends, I decided to share my reaction to visiting the National Cathedral with you. TBE member James Meyer, who is a Curator of Art for the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. was taken by the column and wrote to a colleague, Dr. Eric Motley, who also works at the NGA, who then shared it with the church’s Chief Communications Officer, Kevin Eckstrom. 

Mr. Eckstrom wrote:

“The points you and Rabbi Wallk raise are fair and accurate, and we will be working to address them so that our signage in the Cathedrals Human Rights Porch more accurately captures the breadth of Elie Wiesels legacy. Please be assured – and please convey to Rabbi Wallk – that we will be updating the signage she referenced as soon as possible. Our aim in every aspect of the Elie Wiesel project has been to convey the full measure of his life and legacy, and I apologize that we fell a bit short on this piece. 

“I would call your attention to the words of our Dean, the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, at the evening program surrounding the dedication: ‘I want to be clear that Elie Wiesel was not added to this Cathedral in spite of his Jewish faith, but because of it. His global activism was rooted in, and fueled by, his belief in a just and merciful God.’ To that end, we will make sure that all of our materials reflect Elie Wiesels Jewish faith and heritage so that we are able to more accurately tell the richness of his story.” 

In his response, Mr. Meyer wrote with gratitude and understanding: 

“It was especially meaningful to receive your letter during the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht. It is heartening to know the signage will be updated to clarify the actual reason why Wiesel ended up at Auschwitz…Alas, it happened. The rise of antisemitism in our own country in recent years - expressed in the words of our politicians, the Charlottesville neo-Nazi marchers, and the shootings in Pittsburgh and elsewhere - have occurred in concert with the appropriation of Holocaust imagery and ignorance of the real horrors that transpired then. By including Wiesel's portrait in your sculpture program and identifying him as Jewish, the Cathedral's leadership takes an important step in marking a history it would be pleasanter to forget.

“As someone who has to present works of art in a public space, I too am in the position of responding to questions from our visitors about perceived omissions in descriptions of works of art. It’s a constant learning process. As Kerry James Marshall, the great painter commissioned to design the Cathedral’s new stained glass windows once remarked, ‘We are all learning.’” 

When James learned the news, he forwarded the email to me. And I knew I had to share this very exciting story with our community. 

I am grateful to James Meyer and to the leadership at the National Cathedral for ensuring that Elie Wiesel will be remember for who he really was. Elie Wiesel was born as a Jew and died as a Jew. He suffered and lost immeasurably because he was a Jew. He lived an observant and committed Jewish life and worked on behalf of our people and on behalf of humanity as a Jew. We are first, foremost, and always, Jews, and a people with a particular observance and set of beliefs. Our heritage compels to uphold and support one another and bring our help to those in need of love and compassion in our own circles and far beyond.

Rabbi Amy S. Wallk

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782