Droves of students, buses full of local retirees and others from the Yale-New Haven community flocked to the Yale Law School on Tuesday to listen to distinguished author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
Wiesel spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about hate and intolerance in the world, his perspective as a Holocaust survivor, and his worries and hopes for the future. Wiesel’s talk was sponsored by the Chubb Fellowship, a program run by Timothy Dwight College.
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“Intolerance constitutes a contagious disease that transcends geographical borders and political frontiers,” he said. “To be intolerant toward anyone is to be his or her judge and the jailer of his or her rights.”
Wiesel said that suicide terrorism is a devastating example of intolerance as a cause of conflict, and that respect for other backgrounds and beliefs is necessary for peace. While Wiesel said relations between the Jewish and Christian communities have never been better, he articulated the need for more cooperation with Muslims.
During his speech, Wiesel expressed his indignation with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has publicly questioned Israel’s right to exist and claimed that accounts of the Holocaust are exaggerated.
“Iran should be expelled from the U.N. as long as he’s president,” Wiesel said, shaking his finger in frustration. “I’m waiting to hear an outcry, outrage in the world.”
The world has not been this dangerous since World War II, Wiesel said, and it is up to young people to create an environment of peace.
“This century is yours, and we have not prepared the century for you,” he said. “Do something with what you are learning here … Create an ambience of tolerance.”
The conclusion of his lecture was met with a standing ovation. Audience members said that it was an honor to listen to such an influential figure, and that his message was important and inspiring.
“It was a stirring, beautiful call to memory and to hope and to responsibility,” said Rabbi James Ponet, the Jewish Chaplain at Yale.
Jamie Yood ’07 was one of a small group of students who had the opportunity to have lunch with Wiesel at the Union League Cafe on Tuesday.
“He can say, ‘I was there and this was my experience,’” Yood said. “We need to take something from that and learn something from that.”
Wiesel served as Yale’s first Henry Luce Visiting Scholar in Humanities and Social Thought from 1982 to 1983, and his son graduated from the University in 1994. Wiesel has authored over 40 books, the most renowned being “Night,” a memoir of his life during the Holocaust, and he has been awarded national and international honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.
Timothy Dwight College Master Robert Thompson said he was proud to bring such a distinguished guest to Yale as part of the Chubb Fellowship program, which attracts three or four prominent speakers each year.
“He is a moral inspiration to us all,” Thompson said. “This is more than a Chubb Lecture. This is a spiritual event.”
Wiesel currently teaches at Boston University, where he has served as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities for 30 years.