For the past two months I’ve been traveling to bookstores, synagogues, and community centers along the East coast. I speak for 20 or 30 minutes about my book, about my teacher, about the lessons that help me make sense of the world today. Then I invite questions, and people ask about current events, about Elie Wiesel’s life and beliefs, and about my time with him. All the questions are good, many are sharp and push my thinking, and some are deeply moving. But there’s one question I find hard to answer. “When you look around now, who do you see as a moral leader like Elie Wiesel?”
I have heard this question in four cities so far, from people of different backgrounds and beliefs. The first time I was asked this, I froze, because I don’t see anyone I can identify as a moral leader of integrity, a person of clarity who can be relied upon to do what’s right even if it’s unpopular. I quickly scanned my mental files, thumbing through a virtual rolodex of political, religious, and social leaders. I know there are good people out there doing good things, maybe even great things. I’m inspired by stories I read of social entrepreneurs, of people who commit modest acts of radical kindness, even of former racists who have renounced hatred. But I don’t see anyone who can serve as a moral beacon as Elie Wiesel did for so many.
So I answered the question honestly: “I don’t have an easy answer. The truth is, I’m looking at all of you. We may be living in a moment that doesn’t call for leaders and followers. We all need to take responsibility, in small ways, in our own spheres of influence. And if we do that, we can build the world Elie Wiesel wanted to see.”
I am looking at you. What will you do today to make things better?