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Rabbi Ira Grussgott of Kesher Israel (left)l; President Antoinette Iadarola of Cabrini College (center); and Elie Wiesel who received an honorary doctorate from Cabrini (right). (Photo: Bonnie Squires)
Cabrini College Bestows Honorary Doctorate on Elie Wiesel

Holocaust survivor and international voice for peace and justice. 

-- Bonnie Squires

Probably the most amazing part of the President's Convocation at Cabrini College recently, honoring Elie Wiesel, the great historian, philosopher, humanitarian, teacher, etc., was the chanting of the traditional Hebrew prayer, El Molay Rachamim" by Rabbi Ira Grussgott of Kesher Israel.

I mean, Cabrini College is a Catholic institution. How very kind and thoughtful of President Antoinette Iadarola to have scheduled the honorary degree convocation in the middle of the Jewish High Holy Days, in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so that those of us who were observing the holidays could find time to attend.

And not only did she invite her entire student body, filling the Dixon field house, but she opened it up to the community as well. Before the ceremonies began, I was able to greet old friends Jimmy Murray, the former Eagles mover and shaker; Bob Pucci, head of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Hal Robinson and his wife Linda; and Steve Cohen, the former ARCO company executive whose first grant at ARCO had been to the Cabrini computer lab.

It was a delight to hear President Iadarola announce that Wiesel's extraordinary memoir of his Holocaust survival experiences, Night, was required reading for all entering freshmen. In fact, a young Cabrini alumna, who sat next to me in the press section, had come in from Pittsburgh just to meet in person the author of the book which she said changed her life. 

Wiesel, now a professor at Boston University, is one of those rare individuals who not only survives the unbearable, the Holocaust, but goes on to become an international voice for peace and justice, a founder of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and one of our most prolific authors.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, created in great part by the philanthropy of Miles Lerman, is perhaps Wiesel's greatest legacy. 

It was another Wiesel book, in another time, which had a profound influence on my life. Jews of Silence, published in 1966, described the plight of Soviet Jewry, and this book was responsible for opening the eyes and ears of the world to the crushing anti-Semitism of the Russian government.

At the time that I read the book, I was studying at Har Zion Temple's Fishman Institute with my revered teacher, Dr. William Glicksman, of blessed memory, who had lived, studied and written about the Holocaust.. A classmate of mine, the late Lenny Shuster, whom I had known since childhood, also read the book and asked me to go partners with him to place an ad in the Jewish Exponent at Passover, saying "Remember our Soviet Jewry Brethren."

We did that for a couple of years, and then we started having contact with Soviet Jews in Russia. In 1968, Lenny, his wife Toby and I arranged to meet with then-Congressman Larry Coughlin, and had him place a phone call to a Refusenik while we sat in his office and listened. I still remember Coughlin's saying loudly, "I know the KGB is listening in on this conversation, and I want you to know that I am a member of the United States Congress!" In other words, nothing bad had better happen to this Refusenik or the U.S. government would hold you accountable.

So Elie Wiesel, his book, his inspirational words, really launched the Soviet Jewry Movement in America.

Knowing that people always wonder how someone who has lost so many family members and has survived both Auschwitz and Buchenwald can continue to live without being bitter, Wiesel incorporates his philosophy into his lectures. 

He was able to describe his negotiating process with God: "Master of the Universe, let us make up. It is unbearable to be divorced from you for so long." Someone as erudite as Wiesel, who has studied and thought and interviewed and written and created so much, has the right to share his private "conversations" with his deity. 

From the vantage point of decades of interaction with government officials of many nations, of leaders of all kinds of organizations, Wiesel made one confession: "We made one mistake. When Christians and Jews started meeting, we should have invited Muslims. Maybe if we had bonded, we would be better able to help those who need help."

Maybe it was just my imagination, but when Professor Seth Frechie and President Iadarola presented the hood indicating the honorary degree, there seemed to be a halo around Dr. Wiesel. Or maybe it was just the Cabrini spotlight shining down on him.