“Information must be turned into knowledge, knowledge must be turned into sensitivity and sensitivity must be turned into commitment.”
Elie Wiesel speaking at “A Night to Remember” September 21, 2010, Charlotte, NC
Tonight I had the great pleasure to attend “A Night to Remember” hosted by The Echo Foundation. Established in 1997 following a visit by Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, the Echo Foundation equips individuals with the moral and intellectual tools necessary to create positive change in their local and global communities.
Echo initiatives use the power of example to educate about human rights, social justice, and urgent matters of sustainability. Experiential learning opportunities, programs using the arts in service to humankind, and facilitated dialogue in the pursuit of innovative solutions are the hallmark of the organization.
The premiere of kicked off the event. Footsteps chronicles the journey of 12 Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school students who trace Wiesels early years as part of The Echo Foundations 2007 Footsteps Global Initiative. Not only was the film a powerful testimony to the formative years of Wiesel, it shared the strength of character and conviction it took for Wiesel to become the global human rights leader we know today. Richard Gere provided the introduction to the film and four time Emmy award winner Fred Story created an original score that fit the mood perfectly.
The film left me breathless and emotional. For a short while I was one of those students, on that life changing trip, living Elie Wiesel’s life through their eyes. Innocent to the pain of the Holocaust, the students lost their youth and embraced a world that will forever change them.
Cantor Joseph Malovany of the New York Fifth Avenue Synagogue sang as the film credits rolled. During the middle of his performance, he talked to those of us in the crowd, to let us know he was singing a lullaby, perhaps one Elie Wiesel’s mother had sang to him as a child. His hauntingly beautiful spinto tenor voice will resonate with me long after tonights performance.
At the end of the film, the curtain raised to a stage filled with bright young faces, much like the ones that greeted me in the film. The Echo Ambassadors were given time on stage with Professor Wiesel. The only thing I can remember thinking was, “Did I think like that at their age?” I will be quite honest with you, I’m not so sure.
To see and hear Professor Wiesel discussing everything from the world of literature to genocide, all prompted by these young minds, gives me hope in a better tomorrow. Weisel was a warm, inviting speaker, with a sharp sense of humor, eliciting many chuckles. As a fellow writer, I felt pain finding out he signed away all rights to “Night” as a young man, not knowing it had sold millions of copies before it was picked up by Oprah Winfrey’s book club.
Weisel’s good natured ease over the matter made me come away feeling liberated. Sometimes, it’s about sharing your life, never knowing how it will affect others. Weisel is the voice that stands out in this world for the helpless, encouraging others to walk in his steps.
It was also a night to honor Sandra and Leon Levine. Pillars of the Charlotte philanthropic community, the Levines are shining examples of outstanding citizenship and personal integrity. Their legacy will always be with the community they’ve chosen to serve with their generous nature and sense of responsibility.
Presented with the 2010 Echo Foundation Award Against Indifference by former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, this award was established to honor a member of the Mecklenburg County community who works “…with an eye towards peace, a heart filled with compassion and a voice against indifference, in order to remind our community of it’s highest ideals.”
The Levines were taken aback when Mr. McColl invited some of their closest friends to join them on stage. Being awarded the “Sandra and Leon Levine Medal for Life” was not on the schedule. Designed by Mark Podwal, the inspiration for the piece came from the Levines’ philanthropic activities and their Jewish heritage.
The front of the medal evokes an ancient Israeli coin, featuring a lyre and the biblical verse Psalm 89:3 in Paleo-Hebrew. The name of the medal, the “Sandra and Leon Levine Medal for Life,” arcs halfway around the coin. The reverse side is inscribed with the same verse, which reads, “The world is built upon loving kindness,” in both Paleo-Hebrew and English.
“The World is Built Upon Loving Kindness.” Truer words have never been spoken.
This evening is one that lives in my memory and heart. I’m so thankful to the Echo Foundation for the opportunity that opened my eyes and changed my life.
I was inspired to write down as many of Professor Wiesel’s words during this event as possible. I share them here, hoping you will carry them with you, just as I will, for the rest of my days.
“…at 17 I could have spent my entire life writing about myself.”
“Silence is what makes a work of art a work of art.”
“….judge a book not by words, but by the weight of its silence.”
“I must think of those who suffer today and not about me.”
“Don’t believe you own life unless linked to someone else.”
“I believe in the Constitution. It’s a great sacred document. It defines America.”
“A human being cannot be illegal. A human can do something illegal, but a being cannot be illegal.”
“I do not believe genocide is a part of human nature. Human beings are capable of the worst and of the best. I look for the best.”
“I believe in truth. I believe in what my parents believed. I question God, but I don’t divorce God.”
“Honor and glorify educators.”
“Night doesn’t make me proud, pride doesn’t fit.”
“Forgetting the victims we should remember is criminal.”
I was invited by The Echo Foundation to attend “A Night To Remember.”