Simon Wiesenthal: Endorsed Chabad's JLI Holocaust Program In Final Days


by E.J. Tansky - VIENNA, AUSTRIA

September 23, 2005

Although Simon Wiesenthal, the “Conscience of the Holocaust,” has been laid to rest, his endorsement of the Jewish Learning Institute’s Holocaust course in his final days assures that his legacy lives on.

Wiesenthal, renowned for his lifelong quest to bring Nazis to justice, endorsed the JLI course after meeting with his friend and confidante, Rabbi Jacob Biderman, Chabad’s representative in Vienna. His endorsement statement read: “My friend Rabbi Jacob Biderman has brought to my attention the course “Beyond Never Again: The Holocaust Speaks to Our Generation” which The Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) is planning to offer. I strongly support this course, as information is our defense against the repetition of history, and keeping memory alive is our moral obligation.”

Although Wiesenthal gained fame as a “Nazi hunter,” and JLI’s course addresses today’s moral implications of the Holocaust, the two have the same ultimate goal, according to JLI Director Rabbi Efraim Mintz. Wiesenthal sought to “keep the Holocaust alive in the minds and hearts of the next generation, and this course is about meaningful living in a post-Holocaust world. The course is very much in sync with his lifelong mission,” Mintz said.

Wiesenthal’s endorsement of the course follows 100 others from Holocaust education leaders like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and more around the world. Some Holocaust centers have taken the unprecedented step of hosting the JLI course on museum premises – a first for the Chabad-Lubavitch program.

Endorsing the activities of religious groups was not the norm for Wiesenthal, but he had a special place in his heart for Chabad, said Rabbi Biderman. In the early post-war years, Wiesenthal befriended Joseph Schneerson, a historian, museum founder and relative of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Wiesenthal got to know the activities of the Lubavitcher Rebbe through media accounts. He admired the Rebbe for “reaching out to Jews with love, warmth, and understanding,” said Rabbi Biderman. “He appreciated the Rebbe and Chabad.”

When Rabbi Biderman visited Wiesenthal in his home to discuss the JLI Holocaust course, Wiesenthal asked if Holocaust survivors authored the course. Rabbi Biderman’s reply, that the course was the product of work by Jewish scholars two and three generations removed from the Holocaust, brought a smile to Wiesenthal’s face. “He said, ‘The Jewish people have a long memory.’” Wiesenthal was also heartened by the course’s focus on study as opposed to commemoration. At times, Rabbi Biderman explained, “commemorating can be superficial, but learning becomes part of you.”

The JLI course is set to attract some 10,000 participants in 160 locations across the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Holland, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom and Venezuela. Classes begin on November 6 and will feature the JLI high standard, where thorough preparation is meshed with give and take from course participants. JLI turned to Holocaust scholars, rabbis, and pedagogical experts to research and prepare course materials. Like the JLI’s other courses, the Holocaust class runs for eight weeks and stays in lockstep at every JLI location. Students can travel from location to location without missing anything. Discussions sparked in class are continued at JLI’s central website, creating a worldwide community of learners.

The course’s exploration of the ethical response to evil is a fitting legacy for Wiesenthal, said Biderman. “Weisenthal was in many ways a pillar of conscience. For him, bringing Nazis to justice was not out of revenge, but from a sense of morality. This course perpetuates his contribution to the world.”

To register for the course visit www.myJLI.com.

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