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The Almighty on Trial

Wiesel play challenges faith — March 26 at BU Theatre

Guila Clara Kessous (GRS’07), director of “The Trial of God,” says, “It is a play against fanaticism.”

When he was 15 and a prisoner at Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel watched as three Jewish scholars put God on trial for indifference to the suffering of his people — and found him guilty. After the verdict, Wiesel has said, there was silence, and then the participants all sat down to evening prayers.

Known for his novels, essays, and memoirs, Wiesel also is a playwright, and after years of struggling to convey the story of this powerful indictment of God, in the late 1970s he wrote The Trial of God. A new production, directed by Guila Clara Kessous (GRS’07) and produced through the Boston University Hillel House and the Jewish Theatre Guild, will be performed at the BU Theatre on Monday, March 26. Wiesel (Hon.’74), a Nobel peace laureate and BU’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, has taught at the University since 1976.

The Trial of God is set in an Eastern European village in 1649, after a pogrom has decimated the local Jewish population, leaving only the local innkeeper, Berish, and his daughter to fend for themselves. Arriving at the inn are three Jewish minstrels on the eve of Purim, a festive Jewish holiday. Berish is bitter, and he challenges them to put on a play that is a trial of God, to indict God for what he has done to Berish’s family, to his community, and to all the Jews.

“But nobody wants to be for God, everybody wants to be against God,” says Kessous, until a mysterious character named Sam comes to God’s defense.

“It is a play against fanaticism,” she says. “One meaning of the play is that there is no excuse to kill. Not even God is good enough to justify killing or justify suffering. God exists, is here, I respect and I serve, but that will not prevent me from shouting, ‘How can you make us suffer?’”

Most of the performers are BU students, including Yosi Merves (CAS’09), who plays Avremel, one of the minstrels. “It’s always special to be doing something by Elie Wiesel,” he says. “My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, from a different camp.”

Merves hadn’t heard of the play before being recruited by Kessous, but he says it has grown on him. “I like the idea of a group of people banding together to indict God, as if he is a human being. I think it’s a very interesting concept, especially if they reach a guilty verdict.”

Kessous, who came to BU from France four years ago in part to study with Wiesel and has assisted in his classes, notes that the production includes performances by the klezmer group KlezMITron and the Kalaniot Dance Troupe.

The play “is an incredible statement about God’s culpability,” Kessous says. “The spirit of the witness is still here and talks to us, always murmuring in our ears the same question, ‘Why suffering?’”

The performance of The Trial of God is at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 26, at the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. To reserve tickets, which are $10 in advance and $15 at the door, call 617-353-7200. For more information, go to http://people.bu.edu/trialofg/index.html.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at tmcneil@bu.edu.