As I know you understand, this is a very difficult day. What Elie meant to our Chapman program and to me is more than I can ever adequately express. Elie liked to say “life is not made up of years, but of moments,” and I think he found his moments at Chapman, particularly with our students, among the most meaningful of the latter years of his life. He was described by the Nobel Committee as a “messenger to mankind,” which, of course, he was, but I think he treasured even more than the Nobel Prize and all the other accolades he received, the title of teacher.
Elie taught not only in the classroom and in his books but through his very being in the world. He struggled to understand throughout his life after the Holocaust how human beings could murder one another, and he struggled to understand how both the divine and much of humankind could be seemingly silent while genocide occurred. A lesser person might have given up struggling, but not Elie. He remained true to his Hasidic upbringing, saying even though he might not dress like a Hasid, he was a Hasid, and he continued to be a devout Jew. He believed his Judaism drew him closer to all of humanity, and so it did. His kindness and gentleness of spirit were unfailing.
Sometimes I wondered if he really knew he was famous. He was undemanding and always grateful even for the smallest of thoughtful gestures. I think back to some of the moments I think he most enjoyed at Chapman, and I remember how much he liked “surprises.” He never really wanted to know in advance what I had planned for his time at Chapman, and I think sometimes he just tuned me out when I went into painfully precise, minute by minute detail, of what his stay four months later would include. That in itself I found remarkable. It speaks to his anticipation and hope for the good, even when it meant being vulnerable to pain. He believed even when he suffered the most in the human possibilities to be and to do good. He inspired us all to try to meet his hopes, to be better individuals, and to create a world where no child would suffer as he did.
There is much more I could write, but in the end, words will not express either the depth of my grief and my gratitude for all he has given to Chapman, to our students, and to me. I know the traditional Jewish statement is “may his name be forever a blessing.” I believe with all my heart his name will be that forever, especially for those of us who were privileged to know and love him.