A Festival to Renew Prophetic Action: From Lincoln to King-&-Heschel to Us

At Arlington National Cemetery in 1967, Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, and others in Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam prayed together for the US government to end its war against Vietnam.
Photo ;(expand by clicking on it): At Arlington National Cemetery in 1967, Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, and others in Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam prayed together for the US government to end its war against Vietnam.

§  January 1, 2013, is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all those enslaved in states rebelling against the Union

§  December 31, the day before, is the 40th yohrzeit (death-anniversary) of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who stood beside and marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in opposition to racism in the United States and the US War against Vietnam.

(The biblical notion that 40 years marks a generation, a “pregnant pause” as 40 weeks is the time of human pregnancy, especially moves The Shalom Center to see this as a crucial moment.)

§  On January 21 (the day after the inauguration of the next President), the nation will honor Dr. King’s birthday.

 The confluence of these days has inspired Mishkan Shalom, a synagogue in Philadelphia, to set aside the weekend of January 4-5 for a “Heschel-King Festival.”

 Synagogues, churches, meeting-houses, temples, and mosques all over America can find joy and learning by creating their own versions of this Festival, their own ways to learn not only from the King and Heschel of the past, but toward the Kings and Heschels, Dorothy Days and Malcolms, Thich Nhat Hanhs and Soelles of the present and the future.

Mishkan Shalom’s Heschel-King Festival will draw on the wisdom of Dr. Vincent Harding and Dorothy Cotton, two of Dr. King’s closest associates and members today of the activist US National Council of Elders; and of Rabbi Michael Lerner, a student of Rabbi Heschel, editor of Tikkun magazine, and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. And there will be multiracial and multicultural music from intercongregational choirs, “Bible rap,” poetry, graphic art, dance --  indeed, a festival!

The Shalom Center helped initiate the Festival, and with more than 20 other organizations are its co-sponsors.

To register for the Festival, please click here:


And no matter where you live, you can help make the Festival available to students and other young people by contributing to “scholarships.”  PLEASE CLICK HERE: <http://t.co/p6cKoLIA>

Just as racism and racial injustice did not end with Lincoln’s Emancipation of the slaves, so racism and racial injustice did not end with Thurgood Marshall’s victory over segregation at the Supreme Court, nor at King’s and Heschel’s march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, nor with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964 and 1965.

Indeed, with more than two million Americans in prison today, about two-thirds of them Black or Brown, the direct and violent oppression of young men of color may be worse than it was in the segregated schools of the 1950s. (See Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-Blindness [The New Press, 2010.])

And the desire of some Presidents to drag us into illegal, immoral, disastrous wars did not end with Presidents Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam, but continued into Iraq and Afghanistan in our own generation. Just so, Heschel’s and King’s effort to end the war of their generation must be a flag for us to end the sway of militarism as an automatic response to world problems in our own generation.

And Dr. King’s work toward the Poor People’s Campaign in the months before his death in 1968 did not bring about an end to poverty; indeed, the numbers of people below the poverty line in America today is greater than it was, and the concentration of wealth in the top one-tenth of 1% of Americans is far worse than it was.

What do Heschel and King call upon us to do, today and tomorrow?

§  To heal the deep wounds of racial and economic injustice that continue to afflict us, and indeed keep worsening;                                     

§  To build and rebuild alliances of Jews, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and the labor and environmental movements committed to seek justice;

§  To renew our religious and spiritual communities to act and speak prophetically, as King and Heschel did, in order to transform our society.

With the Emancipation Proclamation in mind, we should remember that it might never have happened without the prophetic passion of the abolitionists – the famous like William Lloyd Garrison, Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and the unknowns who liberated slaves through the Underground Railroad. 

What is this “prophetic passion”?

We have gotten used to hearing that the prophetic voice speaks truth to power.”

For King and Heschel, that was a necessary part of what they did, but not enough.

They also spoke truth to the disempowered, helping them free themselves to share the power to make change.

And when push came to shove, they spoke truth to their own supporters, when those same supporters tried to make them hush.

And all this they did by committing themselves to nonviolence as a means and the Beloved Community as the goal. And by acting to embody the future they imagined, in the present they were living.



JANUARY 4-5, 2013




For a video discussion by Susannah Heschel of the relationship between her father and Dr. King, see


For two collections of Rabbi Heschel’s essays and passages from his works, edited by Susannah Heschel, see Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (HarperCollins 1996) and Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings (Orbis, 2011).

For a 2-volume biography by Edward K. Kaplan (Yale Univ. Press), see Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness (with Samuel H. Dresner, co-author) and Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972

For a 3-volume biography of Dr. King by Taylor Branch, see Parting the Waters : America in the King Years 1954-63;  Pillar of Fire : America in the King Years 1963-65; At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68. For Dr. King's most profound speech, given at Riverside Church in New York exactly one year before he was killed, see https://theshalomcenter.org/node/71

Please remember -- no matter where you live, you can help make the Festival available to students and other young people by contributing to “scholarships.”  PLEASE CLICK HERE: <http://t.co/p6cKoLIA>

The Shalom Center has created a major collection of writings by and about Rabbi Heschel. You can see them by clicking here:   https://theshalomcenter.org/treasury/52                                                          

These materials would be especially useful for study leading up to, on, or after his 40th yohrzeit (December 30-31, 2012) especially during the weeks leading up on the weekend of to Martin Luther King’s Birthday (Jan 21, 2013).

No matter who takes the Inaugural Oath on Sunday, January 20, the prophetic example of Heschel and King will be crucial to the future of our country – as they were the first time around.

We at The Shalom Center have committed ourselves to speak that prophetic voice as strongly as we are able. To do that, we need your help -- emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and financial. To help us, please click here:   https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=1



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