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Friday, 19 May 2017

Limmud FSU: Elie Wiesel and Leonard Cohen legacies on show

What have Elie Wiesel and Leonard Cohen in common? At first glance, there seems to be little that connected the late Holocaust survivor and fighter for Soviet Jewry and the Canadian-born iconic balladeer and poet, but you might be wrong.

First and most obvious is the fact they were both Jewish. Second, they both came from observant Jewish families. Third and most recently, they both figured in exhibitions on show at Limmud FSU last week-end, both of which were curated by the same man, Dr Yoel Rappel.

Rappel was arguably the person closest to Wiesel during the Nazi hunter’s working life, an association that began 35 years ago. Their collaboration reached its zenith in 2007 when Wiesel asked Rappel, himself an author of 32 books, to curate his archive – thousands of documents which were stuffed floor to ceiling in an office.

Such was the size of the task that Rappel and his wife moved from their home in Israel to Boston. Six years later, he had navigated his way through around a million documents including manuscripts of Wiesel’s books, more than 250,000 letters, and some 300,000 newspaper cuttings about Wiesel There were also items from his work as a journalist for Israeli paper Yediot Achronot – “more than Shimon Peres”, quipped 70-year-old Rappel.

Wiesel was also a big supporter of Limmud FSU, regarding it as a vital tool through which young Russian Jews could find and develop their Jewish identity and culture. The Wiesel exhibition that greeted Limmud participants has been touring previous conference venues and this was its final destination. The Leonard Cohen exhibition in its turn presented Rappel with a very different challenge.

First, he recalled, he was given only two weeks’ notice to put it together.

“I decided that I couldn’t do an exhibit covering his whole life, so I decided to concentrate on his Judaism because he came from a religious family and was a Jew throughout his life. Even when he became a fully-ordained Zen Buddhist monk, he never renounced Judaism,” he said.