Earlier this month, the Jewish community joined the rest of the American community in celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Members of the Jewish community feel especially drawn to the King legacy -his modern quest for freedom echoes our biblical journey and, of course, there was a strong kinship between the Jewish community and the African-American community at the time of the Civil Rights Movement.
Among the most prominent of Dr. King's Jewish partners was Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish philosopher and theologian who walked arm in arm with African-American leaders as they marched for civil rights in Selma in 1965, and who also had a January birthday. We strive to emulate Dr. King; we lift up his message of love and light over hate and darkness, we strive for justice and equality for all of earth's inhabitants.
Dr. King preached about universal values. Heschel's were somewhat more particularistic, but no less profound. In this month of his brith, I'd like to propose that we adopt two of his most oft-quoted precepts. The first comes from his experience working with Dr. King
In a letter to Dr. King describing his experience in the 1965 march, Heschel wrote,
“When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” This famous quote is a riff on the words of abolitionist Frederick Douglas who said, "I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs." I know a number of Emanuel members who don't connect to prayer services. Whether this describes your experience or not, I wonder how you might express your Judaism through action this month.
The other bit of Heschel's wisdom I'd like to share is, not surprisingly, about education. He wrote, "What we need more than anything else is not textbooks but textpeople." Heschel believed that it was the personality of the teacher, not the subject taught, that students remembered. To honor Heschel's memory, I'd like to ask you to become my partners in educating Emanuel's younger members. Be textpeople. You needn't be a parent or grandparent to show our students -simply by the way you live -that Judaism is a religion of kindness, of hope, of generosity.
In these last few days of January, help me celebrate the legacy of Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel not with a day off, but with some days on.