Jews United for Justice

2012 -- Honoring poets Howard Schwartz and Eugene Redmond,

Sunday, March 11 @ 3 PM, Duff's Restaurant, 392 N. Euclid, St. Louis

For Jews United for Justice, this story begins with the historic relationship of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, as depicted in the famous photograph of the two walking arm in arm in Selma, 1965. About that day, Rabbi Heschel later wrote in a letter to Dr. King, “when I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”

Rabbi Heschel, Polish born immigrant from a long line of Chassidic rabbis, Professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Reverend King, Baptist preacher and civil rights activist, began their association in 1963. Heschel threw himself into the civil rights struggle, often marching together, the visible sign of Jewish support for the civil rights struggle led by Dr. King.

After the assassination of King, Heschel said of him "Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. . . I call upon every Jew to hearken to his voice, to share his vision, to follow in his way. The whole future of America will depend upon the influence of Dr. King."

About Heschel, King described him as "one of the great men of our age, a truly great prophet. . .He has been with us in many struggles. I remember marching from Selma to Montgomery, how he stood at my side."

It is this historic relationship between Jews and African-Africans, united in the struggle for equality, that Jews United for Justice instituted its Heschel-King celebration, at the convergence of the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Heschel (18th of Tevet) which comes in proximity to the Dr. King weekend, celebrating his birthday on January 15th.

Each year, Jews United for Justice tells a particular story from the civil rights era, honoring the Jewish African-American collaboration, by celebrating individuals who contributed to the struggle. We have created an award, for those who were there.

-- Rabbi James Stone Goodman

On the Yahrzeit of Heschel and birthday of King


Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak,
and may the earth hear the words of my mouth.
– Deuteronomy 32:1

Listen, O earth, to these wounds,
We have been pounded on the peaks,
elevated and alone.
Who ascends these holy mountains,
and why?
We have bled all over our back packs,
descended at the penultimate moment.
Snatched away from the precipice,
we descended into the valley
where we sat quietly with our eyes closed,
waiting for a bus, nothing loftier,
and we would have remained there
if not sitting next to us was the prophet Amos,
watching for the light to change.
His skepticism, as always,
was an inspiration,
justice rolling down like water,
and righteousness like a mighty stream.

All that was holy entered through our wounds,
the last place we expected.
Listen to the wounds, O earth,
pay attention to the bleeding sky,
brother elements, sister flesh,
pay a little attention will you,
at least give ear to these words.
These wounds.

Part 1

There is a famous picture of Abraham Joshua Heschel,
rabbi, human being, interpreter of inner Judaism
and prophetic Judaism,
walking with Martin Luther King, jr.,
preacher, prophet, activist, redeemer,
walking together in the front row of the marchers,
Selma, 1965.
King and Heschel walking arm in arm,
the famous commentary by Heschel,
“I felt as if I was praying with my feet.”

Look at the picture of Heschel and King again,
this emblem of deep connection
bound at the arms they are, bound by the legs they are
the pictorial story of Black Jewish history together,
a chronicle of what was
and hope for a return to coalition,
good intention, hope.

Our freedom stories have been told
in the same story,
King and Heschel claimed the Exodus
story as the freedom story,
the prophets as the freedom agents,
we are characters in each other’s freedom story.

Part 2

“The day we marched together out of Selma
was a day of sanctification. That day
I hope will never be past to me—
that day will continue to be to this day”
-- Heschel in a letter to King.
In that letter Heschel wrote he felt
“as though my legs were praying.”

Both men read their story into
the freedom narrative of Exodus.
The freedom story of Exodus
and the prophets
two stories that transformed and inspired their lives
with spiritual guidance.
For Heschel and King,
the Exile story was not theoretical.

“We will not be satisfied,” preached King,
quoting the prophet Amos 5:24, “until justice rolls down like waters
and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

This verse is engraved into the King Memorial
in Atlanta.