The East Valley Jewish Community Center has partnered with Boston University’s Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies to create an annual lecture series. The series will focus on providing Holocaust education and is a project of the EVJCC's Center for Holocaust Education and Human Dignity.
This is the first partnership in Arizona with the Elie Wiesel Center.
EVJCC CEO Rabbi Michael Beyo worked at BU as the associate director of the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House and was the campus rabbi and chaplain for Jewish students.
“During my tenure at BU, I had a very positive partnership with the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies,” Beyo said. “I was very fortunate to serve at BU during the last few years of professor Wiesel’s time there and was honored to meet and work with him. So it was a natural connection when we decided to create a partnership for an annual Elie Wiesel program.”
The inaugural lecture will feature Nancy Harrowitz, a professor of Italian literature and Holocaust studies at BU. Her presentation is titled “Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi: The Gray Zone of Holocaust Survival.”
Beyo said that Harrowitz is one of the world-renowned experts about Levi.
“The meaning of the title of my talk is this: It refers to the struggles of some survivors who felt guilt because they survived and others did not,” Harrowitz said. “The ‘gray zone’ is a term that Primo Levi uses in one of his essays, referring to the difficult position that survivors often found themselves in.”
Both survivors established their postwar identities through writing about their experiences and society's reaction to the Holocaust.
“They emphasize the importance of remembering the Holocaust and understanding its major themes such as dehumanization, and how that affects our world today,” she added.
Harrowitz said that it is crucial to study Holocaust literature now because of the empathy it can create in the reader. Even if the reader has no obvious connection to the Holocaust or any Jewish communities, absorbing these stories can show similarities.
These lessons are not exclusive to Holocaust literature. Harrowitz has recently begun teaching about how the Holocaust is represented cinematically in documentaries and dramas.
“One of the films I teach about is ‘Schindler’s List,’ which has some distortions, but still packs a really powerful message,” Harrowitz said. “It’s now reached two generations of viewers who understand more about the Holocaust because they’ve seen that film.”
Harrowitz explained that it is vital to teach survivor stories and memories because the population of Holocaust survivors is shrinking. She believes it is now more important than ever to study educational texts, particularly in relation to survivor testimonies.
“I think one way to pass on the legacies of the Holocaust, even after the survivors are gone, is to teach survivor testimonies in schools,” Harrowitz said. “The teachers will be able to convey the importance of these texts, even though the students don’t have a chance to meet the survivors.”
Beyo agreed that these stories shouldn’t die with the final survivors. He added that the testimonies of Wiesel and Levi showcase a personal, physical account of their lives in the camps, forcing readers to address intellectual questions about the difference and value of life, survival and humanity.
“We hope participants reflect on the experiences of Wiesel and Levi, ask these questions and are moved to continue telling these experiences, bearing witness, to a gruesome period of history that cannot be forgotten,” Beyo said.
Through this new partnership, Beyo believes that the EVJCC will be able to provide Holocaust education for years to come.
“The opportunity for the EVJCC to partner with BU’s Elie Wiesel Center is of great importance as it brings the power of Wiesel’s presence — his legacy, his voice, and his commitment to justice — to the East Valley and to Arizona,” Beyo said. “Thanks to this relationship, the Center for Holocaust Education and Human dignity at the EVJCC will bring professors and exhibits to help advance our work in teaching tolerance, respect, and dignity.” JN
The inaugural lecture will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler. For tickets, visit evjcc.org/eliewiesel.