The Romanian town of Sighet celebrated the 90th birthday of its most noted citizen, Elie Wiesel

In front of the house of Elie Wiesel. Photo courtesy of Yossi Zeliger

Two months after a grave anti-Semitic incident in town, a special interfaith dialogue took place at Wiesel’s family home in support of the local community and seeking cooperation in the war against violence and anti-Semitism

Just two months after anti-Semitic graffiti were daubed on the walls of the Wiesel family home in Sighet, which is now a museum to Holocaust Remembrance, a special event in support of the local community’s war against anti-Semitism and violence was held, during which a multi-faith dialogue was held with the participation of members of the three religious communities of Romania.

The event, initiated by Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union) and “March of the Living,” also marked the 90th birthday of the late Eli Wiesel, the noted Nobel peace prize laureate and Holocaust survivor.

At the event, awards were made by the organizing bodies, the Jewish community of Sighet, and the Federation of the Jews of Romania, to the Mayor of Sighet, Horia Vasile Scubli and the local law authorities, who led the campaign against violence and anti-Semitism which resulted in the arrest of the suspected perpetrator a few days after the outrage. Many local citizens participated in the ceremony, including some 100 pupils from local schools.

The multi-faith dialogue was attended by members of the three religious communities in Romania including, among others, Chief rabbi of Romania, Rabbi Rafael Schaeffer, Chief rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazar, Aaron G. Frenkel, the President of Limmud FSU; Dr. Joel Rappel, founder of the Eli Wiesel Archives at Boston University; Prof. Aviad Hacohen, Dean of the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic College; Chaim Chesler, Founder of  Limmud FSU; and Aaron Tamir, Deputy Chair of the “March of the Living.” The dialogue was devoted to the fight against hatred, anti-Semitism and violence, as inspired by the legacy of Eli Wiesel.

Berel Lazar, Chief rabbi of Russia, said during the course of the dialogue; “My great-grandfather held a very warm place in his heart for Sighet. He often told me that it was part of a rich nation – one especially rich in spirit. At the same time, the Holocaust is a part of its history and it is therefore important to remember well what happened here and to bear a message for the future – to do everything possible to stop the scourge of anti-Semitism.  What is more important than the individual who daubed the graffiti on the wall of the Wiesel house, is learning who it was that taught him to hate. Hatred leads to murder, murder leads to ruin and in the end, everyone is the loser. Therefore, the most important lesson to be learnt is to strive for peace and amity and to preach understanding and love.”

Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU said; “The decision to hold today’s event in Sighet was taken after the graffiti incident at the family home of one of the greatest figures in contemporary Jewish history. Our purpose was to launch a heartfelt call that such events will not be repeated –neither here in Sighet nor in any other place in the world.”

Aharon Tamir, deputy chair of the “March of the Living” added; “Behind the cooperation of our two organizations, “March of the Living” and Limmud FSU, lies the belief that if we combine forces, we will be the stronger for it and in that way,  we can strive for a better world. We believe that it is our mission to impart a strong and implacable attitude toward anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and there is nothing more symbolic to do so in the very place which nurtured Eli Wiesel.”

This dialogue followed a procession that took place one year ago in Sighet marking the first anniversary of the death of Wiesel, which left from his family home and concluded at the train station, from which the Wiesel family and many Romanian Jews were transported to Auschwitz, and which has been renamed “Gare Elie Wiesel.” Participating in the procession were hundreds of local Sighet citizens, representatives of the Romanian government, public figures from Israel including Minister of Social Equality, Gila Gamliel; MK Yair Lapid; representatives of the “March of the Living” and Limmud FSU and Conference for Material Claims against Germany.