“My first job out of college was teaching at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I loved my work, teaching both Jewish studies and Phys. Ed. I was also very proud to be associated with a school named after the outstanding theologian and activist. I greatly admired Heschel’s unusual blend of piety, poeticism, and commitment to social justice.
One afternoon at dismissal, standing in the lobby of the school building on 89th Street, I asked a few kids who the man was in the picture hanging above the entryway. The group of three or four children looked at the portrait of the older man with long white hair and a bushy beard, and one of them answered: “That’s Albert Einstein.” Doing my best not to burst into laughter, I gently asked the children to think about the name of our school… “Oh, that must be Rabbi Heschel,” the same little boy answered.
It was in that moment that I decided that I was going to write a children’s biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel. After all, his life unfolded in storybook fashion, with dramatic moments of pain and loss, as well as joy and triumph. And by the time of his death in 1972, he had become one of the most important religious figures in modern Jewish life.
While it took a few more years for me to write the manuscript and get it published, Abraham Joshua Heschel: Man of Spirit, Man of Action [https://jps.org/books/
I flash forward to the spring of 2016… My nine-year-old son, Aviv, a third grade student at a local public school, is being tutored by an outstanding The Rabbinical School of Hebrew College student Daniel Schaefer. In designing a study program, we decide that Aviv and Daniel would read some biographies of Jewish teachers and leaders. As Daniel sifted through possible resources he came upon my Heschel book. He and Aviv spent the next few weeks reading and discussing it, exploring the rabbi’s upbringing in Eastern Europe, his flight from Nazi Germany, his friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., their joint efforts for justice and peace (and the fact that he taught several of our relatives at The Jewish Theological Seminary – JTS). Aviv and Daniel also had some interesting discussions of Heschel’s understanding of the Sabbath and the relationship of humankind to God.
Needless to say, I had great naches (pleasure and pride) hearing about Aviv’s conversations with Daniel (including my son’s surprise that the young Heschel did not have a beard!). Commenting on the study experience, Aviv said, “Reading about Rabbi Heschel makes me want to help the make the world a better place. I think he would want us to take better care of each other and of the earth.” Since Aviv is a twin, he brought home his copy of the Heschel biography to show to his sister Ma’ayan. After she read the book, she added, “I also think Abraham Joshua Heschel would want us to make sure that men and women are given the same chance to contribute and lead, especially since he has a daughter.”
I think Rabbi Heschel would be pleased.
May his memory continue to be a source of inspiration and guidance across the generations.”
(Rabbi Or Rose, Director of the Miller Center for Learning & Leadership at Hebrew College & his son, Aviv Rosenbaum)
Interested in a career in the rabbinate? You might be interested in Rabbi Dan Judson’s article “Jewish Lessons on Meaningful Work.“ Rabbi Judson teaches history, oversees the professional development program, and serves as the placement director for the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. He has a PhD in Jewish history from Brandeis University.