To remember Elie Wiesel is to call up his spirit of grace and generosity. “What Elie Wiesel was to this campus was what he was to the world,” said Michael Zank, professor of religion and Jewish studies and director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies at Boston University. “He was an ecumenical figure.”

On Sunday, Sept. 17, Boston University will host a tribute in memory of Wiesel. Wiesel, who was the university’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and professor of philosophy and religion from 1976 to 2010, died on July 2, 2016. Zank said, “In Memory of Elie Wiesel: A Day of Learning and Celebration is less a commemoration and more of a way to preserve the voice of the teacher through his students in the only academic center in the world attached to Wiesel’s name.”


Abigail Gilman, associate professor of Hebrew, German and comparative literature in Boston University’s World Languages & Literatures Department, was appointed interim director of the Elie Wiesel Center the day before Wiesel’s death. “I don’t turn on my computer on Shabbat, so I learned of Wiesel’s death when my son, who was away in college, texted me ‘Elie Wiesel :(,’ she said. “Almost immediately, the wheels began turning. More than anything, I wanted to commemorate Wiesel’s incredible teaching career here at Boston University, the teaching he did each fall in his lectures at the 92nd Street Y and here on campus, where 1,500 people came to hear him with countless others listening on the radio.”

A number of Wiesel’s former students, colleagues and collaborators will be sharing his work on Sunday. Ingrid Anderson, associate director of the Elie Wiesel Center and an instructor in the Jewish studies writing program, is among those speaking about teaching Wiesel’s groundbreaking Holocaust memoir “Night.” Though Anderson does not teach the book in her introductory course on Wiesel’s literature, she does give her students scholarly readings about the memoir. “While ‘Night’ was a groundbreaking work, I felt his most important legacy was as a teacher,” she said.

She said that in her course, Wiesel’s work on the Hasidic masters has a great impact on her students. “‘Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters’ is a collection of tales Elie Wiesel remembers from childhood, as well as ones that he collected over time,” she said. She noted that for Jewish students who know something about the Hasidic tradition, the stories feel comfortable. “For others who don’t know these stories or have little to no knowledge of Judaism, it’s a way to connect, which I think was entirely his intent,” she said. Anderson added that Wiesel “didn’t always teach what you would think of as Jewish books, but he always taught through the lens of Jewish studies.”

Mark Podwal, Wiesel’s friend and longtime collaborator—he was a guest of Wiesel’s when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986—will also participate in the symposium. Podwal, a physician and acclaimed artist, worked on a number of projects with Wiesel, including, “A Passover Haggadah: As Commented Upon by Elie Wiesel and Illustrated by Mark Podwal.” Podwal recalled beginning the drawings for the Haggadah without all of Wiesel’s commentaries in place. He contributed to the process by suggesting insights he culled from a Wiesel volume called “Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel,” which collected Wiesel’s previously unpublished speeches and writings.

One of Podwal’s most poignant memories of Wiesel was traveling to Auschwitz and Buchenwald with him in 1995. “It was very moving,” Podwal said. “At the end of that trip, Elie was standing in the woods where his barracks once were [in Buchenwald]. And then he asked to be alone when he went into where the mortuary stood and where the last remains of his father were cremated.”

Zank recalled not always seeing eye-to-eye with the more conservative Wiesel when it came to matters connected to Israel. Nevertheless, Wiesel supported Zank’s candidacy for the directorship of the center that bears his name. “Elie was a very diplomatic person,” he said. “When we met in his office, he told me: ‘You and I have a difference of opinion on Israel. But now we are cosmically aligned and I suggest that before you publish something on Israel that might give me pause, show it to me. I [in turn] will do the same for you.’ That was very generous.”

Zank also pointed out that while “Elie Wiesel spoke out of the Jewish experience, he always emphasized common human experiences and concerns. That was the beauty and the power of him as an author and as a teacher.” Gilman added: “I think of this [symposium] as a new tradition. This event is as much for us as for the next generation. Beyond just remembering what we got, what we learned, it is important to discuss the meaning of Wiesel’s work in our time, so that we can pass it on to our students.”