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Black-Jewish Alliance at the 1965 March on Selma
In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
By Ajanet Rountree Posted in Exhibits on July 13, 2021 0 Comments 3 min read
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John Lewis (far left), Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (second from right), and Rev. C.T. Vivian in Selma, Alabama. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Selma to Montgomery march map plan. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Heschel and King at Arlington National Cemetery in 1968. Photo: John C. Goodwin

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel had a long-standing friendship with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through which he evolved his thinking on civil and human rights:

[The] likelihood exists that Negro problem will be like the weather. Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Church synagogue have failed, they must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice.

Let religious leaders donate one month’s salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you, Mr. President, declare state of moral emergency. A Marshall Plan for aid to Negroes is becoming a necessity. The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.

cited in Susannah Heschel, “A Friendship in the Prophetic Tradition: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr.” Telos (Spring 2018)

In any real human person is a craving for the meaning of existence.

…What keeps me alive spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, is the ability to be surprised. I say I take nothing for granted. I’m surprised every morning that I see the sunshine again. When I seen an act of evil, I am not accommodated. I don’t accommodate myself for the violence that goes on everywhere. I’m still surprised. It’s why I’m against. So I can fight against it. We must learn how to be surprised.

“Every Word Has Power: The Poetry of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.” Diva Communications (2015) • Link

I thought of having walked with Hasidic rabbis on various occasions. I felt a sense of the Holy in what I was doing. […]

I felt again what I have been thinking about for years—that Jewish religious institutions have again missed a great opportunity, namely, to interpret a civil-rights movement in terms of Judaism. The vast majority of Jews participating actively in it are totally unaware of what the movement means in terms of the prophetic traditions. […]

I felt my legs were praying.

—from the introduction to Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Watch an NBC interview with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1972, filmed a few weeks before his death. Posted by Elizabeth Friere.

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