ARIEL BURGER is the founding director and senior scholar of The Witness Institute, a new project to empower emerging leaders, inspired by the life and legacy of Elie Wiesel. He is an author, artist, and teacher whose work integrates spirituality, the arts, and strategies for social change. An Orthodox-trained rabbi, Ariel received his PhD in Jewish Studies and Conflict Resolution under Elie Wiesel. A lifelong student of Professor Wiesel, Ariel served as his Teaching Fellow from 2003-2008, after which he directed education initiatives at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. As a Covenant Foundation grantee, Ariel develops cutting-edge arts and educational programming for adults, facilitates workshops for educators, consults to non-profits, and serves as scholar/artist-in-residence for institutions around the U.S. When Ariel’s not learning or teaching, he is creating music, art, and poetry. He lives outside of Boston with his family.
When I was 17, I embarked on a spiritual quest that brought me to many teachers. Of all my teachers, Elie Wiesel was the greatest. To tell you who I am is impossible without including the influence this man has had on me.
I grew up in New York City, an artsy kid in an ultra-Orthodox elementary school, with a blind sister and divorced parents who held very different views on life. My quest for meaning and integration, a way to bring together all the elements of my life into a whole, led me to study for seven years in the closest thing to a monastery Judaism offers. I became a rabbi, wrote hundreds of songs and played guitar at Carnegie Hall with Richie Havens, exhibited art in galleries, danced with thousands of Breslover Hasidim at their annual pilgrimage in Ukraine, participated in dialogue groups between Jews, Muslim, and Christians, got married and had four children, got a PhD in religion and conflict transformation, illustrated folktales, became a teacher, worked as an executive at a non-profit for six years, taught, lectured, led workshops on leadership and Design Thinking, and began using storytelling to connect people across communities.
I questioned everything in search of an answer, but it wasn’t until I met Professor Wiesel that I realized that questioning is the answer. He helped guide me to where I am today – a teacher, artist, speaker, spiritual healer, and now the author of a memoir of the time we spent together.
At a moment when the loss of civility is eroding human connection, I draw on my teachers’ lives and wisdom to help promote civility and kindness. My mission is to help counter superficiality with nuance, to replace estrangement with encounter, and to empower people to be creative and kind citizens of the world. I do this through teaching, storytelling, art- and music-making, writing, coaching, and consulting.
Letter from Elie Wiesel
Read the letter that Wiesel wrote in support of Ariel’s vision to develop an institute dedicated to his work.