Good-night Sweet Prince: on Elie Weisel and speaking up

Moments before finding out that Elie Weisel, author and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, had passed away, I was contemplating commenting on a post on a website. It was a little thing, just a comment to point out that the photo gallery the site had published of a music festival was glaringly lacking the diversity of the attendees of the music festival. A little thing, but still an erasure of the opinions and presence of a sizable portion of the crowd I saw at the festival. But the login for the site was being a little wonky, and after a moment or two of trying to remember a password, I said to heck with it and moved on to facebook.

There, I saw a friend had posted about Mr. Weisel’s death, and I did what most people do in this day and age when seeing death announcements on facebook - I immediately went to google to confirm. Google confirmed. 

But google also showed this quote by Mr. Weisel: 

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

In a weird way, I felt like I was being talked to directly.

Mr. Weisel has been a presence in my life for nearly as long as I can remember. Sure, everyone read Night in school, but — and probably it is because we’re Jewish — his stories, along with Isaac Bashevis Singer and Chaim Potok, informed my growing up years. We discussed his work in religious classes and quoted him in the Passover seder. We were urged to never forget, to remember both the horrible things Mr. Weisel experienced and the amazing strength he exhibited in sharing his and many others’ survival stories.

That one quote of Mr. Weisel’s reminded me of a couple of others - similar in tone, and just as important:

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

and

“Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.”

I am aware that, especially as a person with a relatively good amount of privilege, it is my responsibility to speak out when I see something not right. Especially because my privilege will often allow my voice to be heard when the voices of those being hurt or erased are not. But it is often hard to know how to do it, or when to do it - how and when to speak up in a way that will be effective. Too often, I stay silent, even when I know I shouldn’t. Or I stay silent and regret it later. That isn’t good enough anymore.

So I went back to that other site and figured out the login and wrote the comment that needed to be said, whether or not it made a difference, or if anyone really read it. I need to make sure that all of those wonderfully diverse people, many of whom had, during a panel, expressed feelings of inadequacy for not fitting into their daily lives — for indeed, being invisible — knew that other people had seen them, recognized them, and affirmed their value. 

I am reminded today, with Mr. Weisel’s passing, not to stay silent. To speak up whenever I can about any injustice. Even when it is difficult or uncomfortable. And even when I second guess myself. I echo my last post, but it is true: I — we — must speak up, because our humanity requires it.

Safe passing, Mr. Weisel. I, and hopefully many others, will remember and speak up.