Abraham Joshua Heschel was supposed to be a great Chasidic master. His ancestors were great Chasidic masters and he bore the name of his grandfather, one of the greatest of them all. But two things got in the way of that progression. The first was an internal drive. Rather than stay in the Yeshivah world the young Chasid headed to Berlin, to the University. He published poetry in the secular Yiddish Literarishe Bleter. In later life he would march – on the Sabbath - alongside his great friend, Martin Luther King at Selma. When criticized for such apparent sacrilege he responded, ‘He felt my feet were praying.’
The other thing was the Holocaust that destroyed his family and the way of life of his youth. Heschel fled Berlin to London and later America. As a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary (my own alma mater) he published works that were academic, but also deeply personal. There has never been a scholar, a leader or soul quite like him. This Shabbat, after Kiddush, you are invited to come and share in a discussion about his most popular work; a mediation on The Sabbath and, as the subtitle has it, ‘its meaning for modern man.’ It’s the first meeting of a book club I announced over Yom Kippur. We’ll read books that do more than engage Jew-ishly, but rather books that go to the very heart of what it means to be a Jewish ancestor.
If you have spent the last weeks luxuriating in Heschel’s extraordinary work, I hope you are looking forward to tomorrow as much as I am. Even if you haven’t, do please consider joining us. I’ll have some extracts to share and there will be much to gain even if you haven’t already read the work.
Let me also take this opportunity to announce our next book; Louis Jacobs’ We Have Reason to Believe. It’s a book that split open Anglo-Jewry to give birth to New London Synagogue. It’s also an extraordinary survey of what it means to believe, as a contemporary Jew. It’s written with in a unique style and with an all-but unique breadth of command. I commend it us all. (Incidentally we have copies for sale from the Synagogue office). We will meet to consider it after services on Shabbat 10th January 2015.