"I miss Shabbat," Elie Wiesel told a packed audience at Sinai Temple in Westwood last Friday night.
The renowned author and Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke at Sinai's Friday Night Live, a monthly Shabbat service combining music with mingling and prayer geared to young professionals. The evening also celebrated the congregation's 100th anniversary.
Wiesel's remarks stressed the importance of maintaining rituals in the Jewish faith -- and Shabbat in particular.
"Shabbat transcends time," he said.
This night it was standing-room only as Shabbat also transcended the service's typical 25-40 age group, as well as Sinai's seating capacity.
Having celebrated Shabbat around the world, Wiesel conveyed the novelty of Sinai's Friday Night Live service, which invites singles to stick around for socializing.
After being welcomed by a standing ovation, Wiesel captivated the audience with anecdotes about his small hometown in Romania and with commentary about a Jew's relationship to Shabbat.
According to Wiesel, who survived the Nazi camps in Auchwitz, "even the poorest" and even non-Jews in his town celebrated Shabbat. Quoting from "Shir Hashirim," Wiesel emphasized the need for today's Jews to retain the practice of setting aside a day for rest, prayer and study.
Wiesel's output of oral and written histories, including his books "A Beggar in Jerusalem," "The Golem," "Dawn," and the Nobel Prize-winning "Night," has been relentless, as noted in the introduction by Sinai's Rabbi David Wolpe.
Wiesel, who ultimately chose to study philosophy over music and conducting, shared stories of his Shabbat experiences and interactions with fellow singers and musicians. He claimed that words, after all, can dance much like a song.
In a time of raised awareness about genocide and recent reports, false it turns out (see page 14) about an Iranian law that would require Jews to wear yellow bands, Wiesel's speech to Sinai's audience, which he said represents the "symbol of Jewish survival," seemed nothing short of inspiring, to many in the audience.
"I collect Shabbats," he said.
This Shabbat, for many in attendance, was certainly worth collecting.
Wiesel's speech was followed by a performance by actor-singer Theodore Bikel, additional melodious prayers and a Kiddush wherein the more than 1,500 attendees could mingle, participate in Israeli dancing and meet Wiesel -- or their beshert.