Category Archives: Declaration of Independence

Elie Wiesel- Independent but never alone

“Self-confidence is knowing that we have the capacity to do something good and firmly decide not to give up.”

The Dalai Lama

“Self-confidence is not a feeling of superiority, but of independence.”                                      — Lama Yeshe

Even if only one free individual is left, he is proof that the dictator is powerless against freedom. But a free man is never alone; the dictator is alone. The free man is the one who, even in prison, gives to the other prisoners their thirst for, their memory of, freedom.        —Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel

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Happy Independence day.

July 4, 1776

What we celebrate today is the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The draft of this famous document was submitted to the Continental Congress on July 2nd and they were able to agree on the changes by July 4th.  Then the real work began.

It is significant that Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor, Nobel Laureate, Humanitarian and American citizen, passed away on July 2nd.  His life and passing are inextricably linked to American Independence and what that truly means.

Here are some excerpts from Mr. Wiesel’s essay entitled The America I Love:

“The day I received American citizenship was a turning point in my life. I had ceased to be stateless. Until then, unprotected by any government and unwanted by any society, the Jew in me was overcome by a feeling of pride mixed with gratitude.

From that day on, I felt privileged to belong to a country which, for two centuries, has stood as a living symbol of all that is charitable and decent to victims of injustice everywhere—a country in which every person is entitled to dream of happiness, peace and liberty; where those who have are taught to give back. That day I encountered the first American soldiers in the Buchenwald concentration camp. I remember them well. Bewildered, disbelieving, they walked around the place, hell on earth, where our destiny had been played out. They looked at us, just liberated, and did not know what to do or say. Survivors snatched from the dark throes of death, we were empty of all hope—too weak, too emaciated to hug them or even speak to them. Like lost children, the American soldiers wept and wept with rage and sadness. And we received their tears as if they were heartrending offerings from a wounded and generous humanity.

In America, compassion for the refugee and respect for the other still have biblical connotations.

Ever since that encounter, I cannot repress my emotion before the flag and the uniform—anything that represents American heroism in battle. That is especially true on July Fourth. I reread the Declaration of Independence, a document sanctified by the passion of a nation’s thirst for justice and sovereignty, forever admiring both its moral content and majestic intonation. Opposition to oppression in all its forms, defense of all human liberties, celebration of what is right in social intercourse: All this and much more is in that text, which today has special meaning.

Granted, U.S. history has gone through severe trials, of which anti-black racism was the most scandalous and depressing. I happened to witness it in the late Fifties, as I traveled through the South. What did I feel? Shame. Yes, shame for being white. What made it worse was the realization that, at that time, racism was the law, thus making the law itself immoral and unjust.

Still, my generation was lucky to see the downfall of prejudice in many of its forms. True, it took much pain and protest for that law to be changed, but it was.

America understands that a nation is great not because its economy is flourishing or its army invincible but because its ideals are loftier. Hence America’s desire to help those who have lost their freedom to conquer it again. America’s credo might read as follows: For an individual, as for a nation, to be free is an admirable duty—but to help others become free is even more admirable.

Some skeptics may object: But what about Vietnam? And Cambodia? And the support some administrations gave to corrupt regimes in Africa or the Middle East? And the occupation of Iraq? Did we go wrong—and if so, where?

Hope is the key word for men and women like myself, who found in America the strength to overcome cynicism and despair.

Well, one could say that no nation is composed of saints alone. None is sheltered from mistakes or misdeeds. All have their Cain and Abel. It takes vision and courage to undergo serious soul-searching and to favor moral conscience over political expediency. And America, in extreme situations, is endowed with both. America is always ready to learn from its mishaps. Self-criticism remains its second nature.

Hope is a key word in the vocabulary of men and women like myself and so many others who discovered in America the strength to overcome cynicism and despair. Remember the legendary Pandora’s box? It is filled with implacable, terrifying curses. But underneath, at the very bottom, there is hope. Now as before, now more than ever, it is waiting for us.” – Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel made his life about speaking out against indifference.  He believed in the Independence that does not stand alone but recognizes that caring for one another is at the heart of our freedom.

May his light kindle our own vigilance and courage to continue to stand up to injustice.  If we strive to “Make America Great Again,” let us remember what really makes us great is our generous spirit, our kindness and striving compassion to promote true freedom around the world.