Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a descendant of two important Hasidic dynasties, was born in Warsaw. After receiving a thorough Jewish education in Poland, Heschel entered the University of Berlin, where in 1934 he received his doctorate for a study of the biblical prophets. In 1937 Heschel became Martin Buber’s successor at the Judisches Lehrhaus in Frankfurt and head of adult Jewish
education in Germany, but the following year, he and other Polish Jews were deported by the Nazis. [Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a German-Jewish social and religious philosopher. The Frankfurt Lehrhaus, an experimental center for adult Jewish education, aimed to teach marginal, acculturated Jews about Judaism.]
After stays in Warsaw and London, in 1940 he came to the United States to teach at the Hebrew Union College. In 1945 Heschel became professor of ethics and mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and began to publish a series of works, ranging from studies on the piety of East European Jewry and the inward character of Jewish observance, to religious symbolism, Jewish views of humanity, and contemporary moral and political issues. Before his untimely death, Heschel had become highly respected among American religionists of many faiths not only for his writings but also for his active role in the civil rights and peace movements of the 1960s and in the Jewish-Christian dialogue.
The photograph of Abraham Joshua Heschel walking arm in arm with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the front row of marchers at Selma has become an icon of American Jewish life, and of Black-Jewish relations. The relationship between the two men began in January 1963, and was a genuine friendship of affection as well as a relationship of two colleagues working together in political causes. As King encouraged Heschel’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement, Heschel encouraged King to take a public stance against the war in Vietnam.