Who's Afraid of Elie Wiesel? Theater J's Ari Roth was always willing to defy any critic. So why did he cave to a Nobel laureate?

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ELIE: Bernie, you know best, but help them. Help me. I want you to manage me personally.

BERNIE: I’m sure you’re safe where you are, Elie... It’s enough I have the foundation.

ELIE: How can you resist me, Bernie?

BERNIE: I can’t, no one can resist you.

­—p. 12


Elie Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, less than four months after having been relocated from Auschwitz, where he was inmate A-7713. He went on to write over 50 books and to win the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.

Wiesel was also a victim of Madoff’s Ponzi racket. Like many who were burned by Madoff, Wiesel was elderly, Jewish, and trusting. (“People expect others to be like themselves,” Margolin says. “Pickpockets have their hands on their wallets all the time. Generous people anticipate generosity.”)

But the million-plus of Wiesel’s own money that Madoff liquidated is small change compared with over $15 million that Madoff filched from the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. (Mission: “To combat indifference, intolerance, and injustice.”). In an interview with the New York Times, two months after the FBI arrested Madoff, Wiesel called his former asset manager a “sociopath,” “psycopath,” and “scoundrel,” among other epithets.“I would like him to be in a solitary cell with only a screen,” Wiesel told the Times, “and on that screen for at least five years of his life, every day and every night, there should be pictures of his victims, one after the other after the other, all the time a voice saying, ‘Look what you have done to this old lady, look what you have done to that child, look what you have done,’ nothing else.” (These words appear in Margolin’s script, with instructions to project them above the actors right before curtain.)

Stealing money from Elie Wiesel, especially if you’re a Jew, is grotesque. But is it equally revolting to appropriate Wiesel’s literary likeness? It remains unclear just what Wiesel found “obscene” and “defamatory”—the two words that recur in his letter to Margolin and Theater J—in Imagining Madoff. (Wiesel did not return calls for comment.)

Script Tease: Roth says those eager to see the play will have to wait.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

“[Deb] chose Elie Wiesel as the most moral man one could imagine” Jenness says. “So it was a little odd to have his reaction, quite frankly.”

Margolin herself was baffled. For one, she maintains that the play is a fully realized work of fiction (Roth has called it a “counter-factual counter-narrative”). She says the character bearing Wiesel’s name is less a representation of the man than a quasi-allegorical distillation of his namesake’s gravitas, a righteous foil for the ratlike Madoff.

“It’s not a New York Times article,” Margolin insists. “It’s not biography or documentary. I used that name because it stood for a certain Jewish morality.”

In the March letter to Wiesel, Margolin made this point rather explicitly. “I explained that I had written this play and explained what the character bearing his name metaphorically, not biographically, was doing in the play—as the opposite end of the spectrum from a man of such depraved indifference as Bernie Madoff,” Margolin says.

Certainly the play touched on a subject of great pain for Wiesel, a fact both Roth and Margolin are quick to note. “This decent, decent man trusted this other man, maybe partly because they shared a culture,” Margolin says. “And after being betrayed so badly in the Holocaust by people who wanted to annihilate this culture, here he was so badly, badly abused by this person from within.”

A recurring element in the play is Wiesel’s insistence that Madoff handle his personal assets as well as those of the foundation; by play’s end, Madoff has yet to agree, a poignant ellipsis that mirrors Madoff’s desire and inability to confess his sins to Wiesel.

Which explains Wiesel’s sensitivity—but not his allegations of defamation. Was he concerned that audiences would take the play at its word, assume that he was on intimate terms with Madoff? Would the foundation’s donors take this as a sign of Wiesel’s complicity in Madoff’s plot? Either possibility is hard to imagine. The play’s title is a pretty clear indicator that the action takes place in the realm of the hypothetical.

Obscene, though, is easier to pinpoint, if you imagine yourself an 81-year-old with a taste for moral pronouncements and lips that purse easily. The Wiesel character says “fuck” and “shit,” once apiece. He drinks scotch liberally and prevails on Madoff to keep up with him. (“They’re on their fourth drink by the time the play ends,” Margolin notes.) He compares the color of scotch to that of “piss that has blood mixed in it.” He speaks earthily about the diversity of Israel—“There are black people, Bernie, blonde girls, fat ladies, heroin addicts that hang around the laundromats, cab drivers, all of them Jews!”

Madoff, in his prison-scene monologues, is profane in the Al Pacino vein, especially in discussing the procreation of fish. He recounts a dream in which his penis was a vagina (“...and it was a vagina that had folds, really, it looked like a wallet”). In an especially arresting moment, Madoff remembers Wiesel teaching him to lay t’fillin, the sacred Torah containers strapped by the observant to their various extremities; Madoff discusses the experience in terms of sexual bondage. (“He seemed like a lover who wanted to touch me in that way, who wanted to tie me to the bedpost, to dominate me.”) Elsewhere, the financier takes evident delight in lesbian jokes. (“How many lesbians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” “One! And it’s not funny!” No, it isn’t.)

One of his first lines is a similar joke about the Jews, the punchline to which we don’t get until the end of the play; Wiesel delivers it, and it’s “six million and one.”

Our Readers Say

I'm deeply disappointed in the theater for caving in to "censorship by request". Artistic license is part of the creative endeavor and Mr. Wiesel's request was simply that.

The decision to comply speaks of a sad state of affairs for American theater.
I'm all for having a fight to defend artistic license; and Theater J had and keeps the right to produce this piece. But as a former student of Deb's, I know the depth of her connection to her subjects as well as her own vision. Ultimatley, this isn't about a lawsuit. Roth and Margolin both have immense respect for Wiesel. Seeking his blessing wasn't about avoiding a battle in court, it was about preserving the dignity and integrity of someone for whom they have that level of respect.

Every piece of theater is more than just a piece of art removed from the world; it is art embodied in the world. To produce a play is to stand before a group of others and make a statement. I can understand why neither Margolin nor Roth want to make a stand for a statement that offends a friend a pillar of their community. That Wiesel sees her play as offensive is sad. That Theater J chose not to go ahead with the play upholds the spirit of generous community that Theater J, Ellie Wiesel, and Deb Margolin all stand for, and is in best traditions of writing.
To those who have studied Wiesel he is not a symbol of moral clarity but rather an icon of hypocrisy. He lies about the Palestinian dispossession in 1948 and has never been able to apologize for the massacre committed by his employer at Deir Yassin. He hides the truth of what he personally lost to Bernie Madoff, which some have estimated to be over $20 million. Rather than bow to his wishes and threats, the theater group should recognize him in the words of Noam Chomsky as a "terrible fraud."
I too have long considered Elie Wiesel to be an egomaniac and an intellectual and aesthetic fraud. His greed driven association with Madoff (because 20% returns were his due, of course)only underscores the level to which he is a moral fraud as well.

Ms. Margolin seems to have constructed a character that is far deeper intellectually and spiritually, far more grounded morally, far more complex, then Wiesel, rather an intellectual for the weak minded, has ever been. The key for Ms. Margolin in salvaging this piece might lie in recognizing that the reason Wiesel objected to this characterization was that it was so glaringly far above him. Wiesel knows on some instinctive level that he is unworthy of this veneration.

Ari Roth, in my mind, seems badly tarnished by this episode. Let it be for him an opportunity for growth that might provide Theater J with a stronger platform from which to launch its next phase. Roth might recognize the petulant adolescent that Elie Wiesel has proved himself to be and shed the preconceived notions embedded in his psyche by Wiesel's careful management of his own public image. By casting aside the imposter, Wiesel, Roth might truly open his stage to more righteous portrayals of a "certain kind of jewish morality."

I look forward to seeing this work fully realized at some point in the future and hope Ms. Margolin finds the support she needs at Theater J to that end.
I agree with comment #2. The City Paper piece is framed as a question whether Theater J had the courage to "stand up to" Elie Wiesel or, more personally, whether Ari Roth was "man enough" to do it. There are many other values in life, many of them far more important, than such playground-type baiting.

Whether Elie Wiesel deserves the respect the world seems to accord him is a different issue; I had thought so but haven't studied his life. What seems clear to me, though, is that theatres must be free to make production decisions on any basis they choose, whether it involves tearing down icons or respecting them, and that there is courage also in ignoring demands from any quarter to make other kinds of choices. For my money, Ari Roth's track record amply demonstrates his personal and artistic courage.

Wiesel's detractors are more than welcome to produce a play trashing Wiesel with their resources. Ari Roth made a decision in accordance with his own conscience, and that is all I expect from him. He wasn't bowing to financial pressure or public opinion, but the feelings of someone he respects. The fact that WCP feels the need to frame such a simple human dynamic - respect - as a battle of wills and who's the bigger man is far sadder than any other aspect of this episode.

As an aside, I'm not sure why Wiesel objects so strenuously, but whatever. He's an old man who's led a difficult life, and like anyone he's free to object to any public portrayal of himself he finds distasteful. Theater J is free to abide by or defy that objection; I see nothing cowardly in their call.
The Wiesel is at it again.

jEWS only believe in suppressing others. They are genocidal megalomaniacs.
jews are terrorists. Mel Gibson changed his Passion script because he stated that he feared jews would come to his house and kill him.

jews are a clear and present danger to America and everything it is supposed to represent.
Hawaii Shaloha Education Off-shore Nation Building from Paper Forged Shangri-la Fantasy Island sovereign Paradise: "Look Boss, de Planes"! Made In Amerika? The Project For A New AIPAC Century [PNAC]: "A New Pearl Harbor"? [Paul Wolfowitz: DOD - World Bankster: DC / Asian Development Banksters, Manila, PI / International Monetary Fundsters: DC to the French Socio-Economic Engineers: "Yes We Khan"!]

Ref: Black Gold Holy Secret Warriors De-Classified: "The Swiss, The Gold, and The Dead" from "Waltzing With A Dictator: The Marcoses And The Making of American Policy" [Ray Bonner] links: The Evil Roots of Good, The Evil Roots of Bad, The Evil Roots of Ugly under The public subsidized Amerikan Idols of Greed [A.I.G.] with Aloha from the U.S. Militar cross-roads in the remote U.S. Offshore South Pacific [Camp Smith] for: "The Crimes of Patriots" [Jonathon Kwitny]: Old Soldiers never die, they just never....ever....fade away: "Killing Hope: The U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 11" [William Blum];

Public Scope for well calculated All-Amerikan Politico Frauds: The Knights of Malta; Opus Dei; Jesues Angleton [CIA]; 1948 Israeli War of Independence; Meyer Lansky [Murder Inc]; Jewish Defense League [JDL]; Kissinger of Death New York Associates [9/11 WTC Commission "Report"]; Classified Family Jewels Report [Church Commission with Inside Staffer Mole - future AIPAC Executive Leader: Tom Dine [1980 - 1993] to Steve Rosen [1993 - 1999: Clinton - Ken C.V. Starr extorted Lewinsky investigation DOD spy ring with Keith Weissman Pardoned by Obama Administration visa Jane Harmon [Woodrow Wilson Institute] & Douglas Feith [Cox & Zell]; and the Ford 1976 Halloween Massacre; The 1976 Foreign Soverign Immunities Act [FSIA]; CIA: Allan Dulles, John McCone, Richrad Helms, James Schlesinger, William Colby, George H.W. Bush, William Casey ["The Man Nobody Knew"]; Former Nixon Sect of Labor - former Nixon Sect of Treasury - former Reagan Sect of State: George Schultz: S.F. Bohemian Club; = "Fifth Column: The Host and The Parasite" [Greg Felton];

Hawaii Aloha Hana Hou Compromised: "It Takes A Pillage" [Naomi Prins]for The Best Fascist Shadow Government Money Can Buy: "Although you may never see us, we are in your everyday lives" [Office of Hawaiian Affairs]: Hawaii Shaloha Hana Hou: "Democracy in America is being undermined [hyjacked] from within. It's been going on for a long time and it's getting worse. [i.e. Koch Industries, Jackson Stevens Inc, Sheldon Adelson, Bernie Madoff, "Casino Jack And The United States of Money"]. Not only that, but we're being forced to fund the deception" [V - Ventura];

We are Bank Fraud Legions: "Never Forget - Never Forgive....expect us"! Voltaire: "In general, the art of government consits of taking as much money [private targeted properties, "smart" business ideas, privatized personal assets] as possible from one class of citizens to give to another"? Hana Hou...."Yes We Khan"!

Jews planned to exterminate the entire German people well before Hitler came to power. The results of Jewish-run World War Two were millions of dead Germans.

And all we hear about is the mythical holocaust of six million; heard from the mouths of frauds like Ellie Wiesel.

All Jews are murderers of the race of mankind. John 8:44.

"The Germans cannot understand the talk of civilized people. They must be approached in their own idiom. That's why I wrote 'Germany Must Perish.'" [The Canadian Jewish Chronicle, 26 September 1941] Written BEFORE WWII and the "holocaust."

"..... the solution for the ills of the world lies in sterilization of the German people." [Ibid.]

"I advocate the sterilization of all Germans." [Ibid.]

"The goal of abolishing the white race is on its face so desirable that some may find it hard to believe that it could incur any opposition other than from committed white supremacists." [Jewish Doctor, Noel Ignatiev, Harvard Magazine]

"There is much in the fact that Bolshevism itself, in the fact that so many Jews are Bolshevists, in the fact that the ideals of Bolshevism at many points are consonant with the finest ideals of Judaism." [The Jewish Chronicle, April 4, 1919]

"The Bolshevist revolution was largely the outcome of Jewish idealism. What it so powerfully contributed to accomplish in Russia, the same historic Jewish qualities of Jewish mind and heart are tending to produce in other countries". [The American Hebrew, September 10, 1920]

The International Jewish crime syndicate uses the holocaust hoax to denounce all who oppose their agenda for a world ruled by Jews. Jews use the holocaust as an excuse to blend the white races out of existence through massive non-white immigration into white countries and only into white countries. It is genocide.

"We have been at war with him (Hitler) from the day that he gained power." [The London Jewish Chronicle, May 8, 1942, "Sermon of the Week."]

Rabbi M. Perlzweig, head of the British Section of the World Jewish Congress, speaking in Canada, stated: "The World Jewish Congress has been at war with Germany for seven years." (Toronto Evening Telegram, February 26, 1940.) {Long before the "holocaust."}

Vladimir Jabotinsky, Jew-communist and founder of the Irgun terrorist organization wrote in the January 1934 issue of Natcha Retch: "The fight against Germany has been carried on for months by every Jewish community, conference, congress, trade organization, by every Jew in the world, There is reason to believe that our part in the struggle will be of general value. We shall let loose a spiritual and material war of the whole world against Germany. Germany's ambition is to become a great nation again, to reconquer her lost territories and colonies. Our Jewish interests on the other hand demand the complete destruction of Germany. The German nation is collectively and individually a danger to us Jews."

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