Fall 2021 Elie Wiesel Memorial Lectures were devoted to the theme of human rights, past and present, in Jewish and American traditions.

The American Declaration of Independence (1770) and the Bill of Rights (1791) provided the precedent for much of the modern struggle for human rights across the globe. Within the United States, even with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, economic equity and equality before the law, let alone in law enforcement, are still unfulfilled promises. Income inequality is on the rise, and basic human rights such as equal access to fresh air, drinkable water, housing, health care, and education remain elusive for many. Among the most compelling voices advocating for human rights that have emanated from Boston University were those of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nobel laureate Professor Elie Wiesel.

The Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies at Boston University was honored to host three lectures in our 2021 Elie Wiesel Memorial Lecture series titled “Human Right: The Legacies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Elie Wiesel” to honor their legacy and recall their voices for today.

You can access the Livestream for the 2021 Elie Wiesel Memorial Lecture Series on our Youtube channel.

October 6: The Jewish Human Rights Legacy with Rabbi Sharon Brous

In her talk titled “We Belong to Each Other: a Jewish Framework for a Just Society,” Rabbi Sharon Brous spoke about the foundation of the Jewish commitment to human rights in the Torah. She argued that the story of the Exodus from Egypt, a source of hope in the darkest hours of the Jewish, is not just about a one-time event, nor limited to the Jews alone, but an eternal story that applies to all people. Brous explained how the Exodus story could serve as a powerful narrative that provides a frame of reference for past, present, and future struggles for freedom and dignity. The Exodus narrative attests to the possibility of freedom over slavery, dignity over degradation, and self-determination over systematized oppression. It has the power to plant the seed of hope, allowing us to dream of something different and better. In her address, Brous also argued that the Exodus narrative is a testament to the possibility of change and the inextinguishable yearning for freedom and justice in a world of systemic oppression and injustice. According to Brous, the Exodus story is an eternal reminder that we all have a role to play in realizing the dream of a more just society.

You can read the transcript of Rabbi Sharon’s lecture by visiting this page.

About the Speaker: Rabbi Sharon Brous is co-founder of IKAR, an inclusive Jewish community in Los Angeles launched to reinvigorate Jewish practice and inspire people of faith to reclaim their moral and prophetic voice. As senior rabbi at IKAR, Rabbi Sharon Brous works to develop a spiritual roadmap for a soulful, justice-driven, multi-faith ethos in Los Angeles and around the country. Rabbi Brous gave a charismatic and spirited lecture on why human rights matter in the Jewish tradition.

October 27: “The Human Rights Legacy of MLK Jr.: Lessons for Today” with Reverend Dr. William Barber II

Dr. William J Barber II, one of today’s most prominent voices in the struggle for change in society, spoke about the human rights legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Reverend Barber claimed that, where politics are weaponized and where almost 50 percent of people live in poverty, is a nation in a moral, economic and political crisis. Reverend Barber called on his audience to refuse to accept the pervasive ills of poverty as inevitable and join the work for liberty and justice for all. He reminded the attendees of how interrelated we all are and warned of the dangers of silence in the face of injustice and violence. Quoting Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Elie Wiesel, he called on the audience to interfere whenever and wherever human lives and dignity are in jeopardy. Throughout his lecture, Dr. Barber encouraged the audience to join the Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly & Moral March on Washington on June 18, 2022, to break the silence and build a stage for poor, low-wealth, impacted people of every race, creed, and color to speak. He argued that it is only by coming together that we can bring about a Third Reconstruction which he claimed is the only path towards a more just society.

You can read the transcript of Reverend Barber’s lecture by visiting this page.

About the Speaker: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is a pastor and social justice advocate engaged in grass-roots movements based on the moral tenets of faith-based communities and the US constitution. As President & Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, he leads a nationwide struggle to end systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and environmental destruction. He serves as Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, Visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary, and Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Dr. Barber is the author of four books and a prominent public speaker.

Louis Chude-Sokei, Professor Of English, George and Joyce Wein Chair in African American Studies, Director of the African American Studies Program, wrote, “there really is no more apparent heir to the true legacy of Martin Luther King at work in the Black and American activist world than reverend William Barber. I emphasize true because where much of the MLK myth has been appropriated in ways that dilute its focus on poverty as much as race, social justice as much as assimilation, Barber is recognized as having taken those less marketable aspects of King into a new generation that needs those aspects far more than the media myth deployed by even figures on the right. And given how much work BU has been doing in and around race and social justice, the invitation to Reverend Barber has further energized and catalyzed various communities and institutions, not to mention attracted a wide wide audience. This is a phenomenal opportunity.”

Margarita Guillory, Associate Professor of Religion, wrote: “for over four decades Reverend William Barber has galvanized African-American communities to challenge social, political, and economic inequities. Reverend Barber’s activism extends beyond these communities, he’s equally committed to advocating for socially vulnerable individuals and communities who are disproportionately impacted by racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Reverend Barber’s goal is to secure basic human rights of those impacted by structural injustices; as such, his work provides concretized examples of human rights work that could provide a roadmap for BU students and community members at large who are interested in learning more about activism or who want to do the work. His revitalization of the Poor People’s Campaign will further enrich the narrative of one of BU’s well-known alumni, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

November 8: “The Human Rights Legacy of Elie Wiesel” with Elisha Wiesel

Mr. Wiesel delivered the last of the 2021 Elie Wiesel Memorial Lectures in a speech dedicated to the memory of his father, Nobel laureate, long-time BU Professor in the Humanities, and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. Elisha Wiesel started his lecture by reminding the audience that to understand his father’s legacy, one ought to recall the years of his youth spent in Sighet/Romania. Elisha described how his father grew up in a Jewish family that instilled Jewish values and the knowledge that he was part of the broader Jewish people at a very early age. He went on to offer observations he made throughout the years regarding his father’s approach to activism. Among the lessons Elisha shared from observing his father’s activism were that guilt is not inheritable and that it is essential to let victims know they’re not alone, treat others with respect, and not let lies stand unchallenged. The talk was followed by a lively audience Q&A jointly moderated by Mr. Wiesel and Michael Zank, Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies.

You can read the transcript of Mr. Wiesel‘s lecture by visiting this page.

About the Speaker: Elisha Wiesel retired from a twenty-five-year financial markets career, and is now chairman of an Israeli start-up, The Floor, while he spends time with his family, studies Talmud, and works with non-profits such as Zioness, a progressive Zionist organization. When his father passed, he realized many others missed Elie Wiesel’s voice – and so Elisha speaks from time to time about his father’s legacy and message when the right opportunities arise for impact.