Elie Wiesel: Jewish, Literary, and Moral Perspectives

By Steven T. Katz; Alan Rosen | Go to book overview

20
WITH SHADOWS AND WITH SONG
LEARNING, LISTENING, TEACHING

ALAN ROSEN

AN EARLY 1963 ESSAY by Elie Wiesel is of a piece with most of those collected in his book Legends of Our Time. Titled “My Teachers,” it tells of key figures who made up life in Sighet, the author’s hometown.1 When the author wrote it, he was not a teacher but a writer. And it would be a decade before he embraced the path of teaching.

But the essay “My Teachers,” ahead of its time in some respects, also turns out to be essentially about writing, and thus is relevant, even indispensable, when considering Wiesel’s literary vocation. Indeed, the essay reveals the underpinnings of the writer in the course of paying tribute to the teachers. Moreover, it shows the debt to be reciprocal in that teaching is preserved by writing. But I want to suggest that the influence of one on the other is even more palpable.

First and foremost a writer, Wiesel had a path to the classroom that did not take place overnight. Rather than take for granted the fact of his being a classroom teacher, I want to ask, What had to happen in order for that to take place? What had to change in order for that to become a possibility and actuality? The entry into the classroom was bound up with several other watershed events, personal and professional. So while the role as classroom teacher is interesting in its own right, it also, especially in association with these other events, marks an important “new path” in Wiesel’s career. Indeed, it may mark a divide, an opening up of several new directions that have become so much a part of Wiesel’s vocation that it is hard to recall that there was time before.

The classroom is not just any classroom but that of a university. Wiesel’s approach toward classroom teaching must be seen in the context of university teaching in general. Again, Wiesel’s training for such a role was different from most, having taken place generally outside the university and outside the classroom. This unconventional background may have something to do with the innovative and challenging character of Wiesel’s classroom teaching.2

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