Oprah the Outreach Worker

Elie Wiesel’s Night has become a number-one bestseller once again, thanks to Oprah’s endorsement and in spite of concerns of the Frey memoirs episode. Her support of Rabbi Harold Kushner’s last book proved her power to take a Jewish book and raise it to universal proportions. But in this case Oprah will be traveling to Auschwitz with Wiesel, adding value to her endorsement, especially important in the craziness that continues to emerge from Holocaust denier circles (including Iran’s recent announcement of a Holocaust cartoon contest).

Some communal institutions may decide to take advantage of Oprah’s visit to program for its constituents. Others will use it as a vehicle to teach the general public and reach out and welcome in those on the periphery—an approach we endorse. But there is something even more important to note.

One of JOI’s recent studies (”A Flame Still Burns“) revealed to us that most children of intermarriage, because they are not connected with Jewish communal or educational institutions, receive their Jewish education through secular means. And they are more comfortable in the context of heterogeneous groups. This informal education is more likely to be Holocaust-related (since that is the primary educational vehicle available in secular contexts). It also means that while most Jewish educators are working hard to shape curricula that are positive and celebratory, their nascent Jewish identities are being shaped by the lachrymose approach to Jewish history that contemporary educators, for the most part, eschew.

Even though it’s based on the lowest point of Jewish history, we can still take this opportunity to help educate people—all people, including those from Jewish households on the periphery—and help them take the next step in their Jewish growth. Elie Wisel has written many books, not all of them as dark as Night nor isolated to the Holocaust. Let’s not miss this amazing opportunity to reach those who may want to engage more deeply with Jewish life but aren’t taking proactive steps towards us on their own. What kind of events are local Jewish communities planning around this important milestone?

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