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Heschel the Dreamer and Songs of Hope (September 2017)

Rabbi Mike

As you may know by now, I have been involved in the new Worcester Black-Jewish Alliance, an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts, the Worcester NAACP, and the Worcester Black Clergy Association.  Our members Jeff and Judy Narod have participated as well. On Sunday, September 10, the Alliance presented “Songs of Hope,” a concert featuring performers from both communities.  On all of our publicity materials and the program for the concert we used as a backdrop a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as a symbol and reminder of the partnership and mutual support of the Black and Jewish communities in that movement.  While thousands of Jews were active in the movement and in the struggle for voting rights for everyone, Heschel has been the face of our involvement due, in part, to his friendship with Dr. King as well as his unique ability to articulate the moral and spiritual obligation for Jews to participate in that struggle for equality and dignity.  As he famously said after participating in the historic march in Selma, “We prayed with our feet.” 

While the Civil Rights Movement brought about positive change legally and socially in our country, at no time since the 1960’s has that progress been more in jeopardy.  As a  candidate for President, Donald Trump asked an African American audience, “What do you have to lose?” in voting for him, and we have seen exactly what is at stake—the social progress that was attained for African Americans and other minority groups during that historic movement.  Many people, myself included, view the President’s decision to end DACA (“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”) last week as one more step, and a huge one, in the wrong direction for our country.  On the bright side, I am cautiously optimistic after the ensuing joint statement by Senators Lindsay Graham and Richard Durbin about Congress being able to pass the bipartisan Dream Act, which would give these children of immigrants, known as “dreamers,” a path to citizenship. 

Susannah Heschel, Rabbi Heschel’s daughter, asserts that “My father was a dreamer too” in The Forward, in an article written in the wake of Trump’s DACA decision. She describes how he was deported with thousands of other Polish Jews living in Germany in October 1938.  Rabbi Heschel was fortunate to have been brought to the U.S. by Julius Morgenstern, then President of Hebrew Union College.  But the word “deportation” would always be met with horror in his family, which consisted of many refugees and survivors. It is noteworthy that the picture which is atop the article is the iconic image of Heschel marching with Dr. King and others in the struggle for human and civil rights for everyone in our country.  Sadly, that struggle continues.  I believe that by bringing the Black and Jewish communities together in a celebration of our cultures and our historic partnership, “Songs of Hope” is a part of that struggle.  Our intention is that it is the beginning of an ongoing collaboration, partnership and dialogue between our two communities. 

Thu, June 13 2024 7 Sivan 5784