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‘Spiritual Audacity’ Examines Rabbi Who Walked with Martin Luther King
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Sunday, May 14, 2023


Polish-American Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel lost his mother and three sisters to the Nazis in World War II. And he himself was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and deported to Poland.

But he survived to immigrate to the United States where he carved out an influential life teaching Jewish ethics and Mysticism, speaking out against the Vietnam War and marching for Civil Rights alongside  Martin Luther King and John Lewis.

“When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying,” he remarked.

Now, a free screening of the award-winning documentary “Spiritual Audacity: The Story of Abraham Joshua Heschel” will be shown at 7 pm. Tuesday, May 16, at the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theatre at the Community Campus in Hailey.

The screening is co-sponsored by the Sun Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church, Valley of Peace Lutheran Church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Light on the Mountains Center for Spiritual Living and the Wood River Jewish Community. A discussion will follow the 57-minute film.

The film was made by Emmy Award-winning Martin Doblmeier, who founded Journey Films in 1983 to focus on religion and faith. The documentaries, which have aired on PBS, ABC, NBC and BBC, have been likened to accomplishing for spiritual topics what Ken Burns did for historical subjects. “I am in awe of Martin Doblmeier’s work,” said Journalist Bill Moyers.

“Spiritual Audacity” includes archival photographs and rarely seen footage of Heschel, as well as interviews with Heshel’s theologian daughter Susannah Heschel, Civil Rights leaders John Lewis, and Andrew Young and others.

“They had a lot in common, Heschel and King: they understood injustice; they understood the need to stand up against it,” said Doblmeier.”

Heschel, who served on the faculty of Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, taught that the teachings of the Hebrew prophets were a clarion call for social action and that God and man had a mutually dependent relationship.

A poet and an author, his books include “Man Is Not Alone,” “God in Search of Man,” “The Sabbath” and “The Prophets.”

  • “When religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless,” he wrote.
  • “There are many creeds but only one faith,” he said.
  • “Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God.”
  • “Few are guilty but all are responsible.”
  • And, “Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself. It is a silent justification affording evil acceptability in society.”

“Rabbi Heschel is an authoritative, commanding voice in the religious life of America,” theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said.

The Seventh-Day Adventists screened an engaging docu-drama about German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, also created by Doblmeier, just before the pandemic. The church had hoped it would launch a series of films bringing the valley together to contemplate matters of faith. But the COVID pandemic interrupted that mission.

The church’s pastor Stephen McCandless said he believes that examining the biographical profile of Heschel will help viewers see the common denominators they share as human beings, regardless of their faith beliefs.

“Heschel was considered a radical in his time because of positions in his prolific writings and his public challenges to the United States government, organized religion and common citizens over issues of race, ethnicity, and war,” he said. “Now we see how he was far ahead of so many of his peers in being on the right side of so many issues. There is much to learn from this man’s story.”




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