Spiritual Audacity: The Abraham Joshua Heschel Story

Spiritual Audacity: The Abraham Joshua Heschel Story January 27, 2021

I watched the latest documentary from Journey Films about the life of Abraham J. Heschel last night, and realizing that today is Holocaust remembrance day and that Heschel was inspired by, among other things, losing so much of his family in the Holocaust, I thought I would write a blog post and share my enthusiastic recommendation today when it seems particularly appropriate to do so. The film covers so many aspects of his life and work. As a biblical scholar I am fully convinced that his two volume classic study of the prophets is the most important work written on that subject, probably ever. His proposal that prophets were individuals whose lives were infused with empathy with what they were convinced that God felt about the injustice in their time, is the key that unlocked those works to me and allowed them to simultaneously make sense to me and inspire me in ways they hadn’t before. But there is so much more to Heschel’s life, and this movie explores it in a condensed way without losing the crucial details or the overall gist in the process. It really is wonderful and inspiring. Here is what Journey Films says about it:

The much anticipated documentary film SPIRITUAL AUDACITY: The Abraham Joshua Heschel Story is available today on DVD, exclusively at Amazon.com. The film is the fourth and final installment in the Prophetic Voices film series that includes profiles of Reinhold Niebuhr, Howard Thurman and Dorothy Day.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the most remarkable and inspiring religious figures of the 20th century. After narrowly escaping the Holocaust in Europe, Heschel came to the United States to start a decades-long career as a prolific and influential writer, as well as a social and political activist. He became a personal mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr and the entire Civil Rights Movement, an early voice of resistance to the Vietnam War and a pioneer in interfaith dialogue.

“It can’t be overstated how courageous Heschel was throughout his life,” says filmmaker Martin Doblmeier. “Again and again, whether it was challenging Hitler while in Germany, risking his life on the front lines during those dangerous Selma marches, or speaking out against the Vietnam War when so few had the courage to do so, Heschel found himself on the right side of history.”

SPIRITUAL AUDACITY: The Abraham Joshua Heschel Story is the first full length documentary on Heschel. It features extraordinary archival photographs and film footage, as well as remarkable interviews with Civil Rights icons Andrew Young, late Congressman John Lewis and Jesse Jackson, as well as Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch, celebrated Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, public theologian Cornel West, Heschel’s daughter Susannah Heschel and many others.

See my previous posts about Martin Doblmeier’s films about Reinhold Niebuhr and Howard Thurman (the latter including a podcast with Doblmeier).

For those who may not be familiar with Heschel, here is a podcast that may be of interest:

Also of related interest, the Milken Archive has a new album coming out (and a giveaway for some lucky people) featuring works of composer Bruce Adolphe celebrating the important work of Rabbi Joachim Prinz. Read more about it in the most recent mailing from the Milken Archive. (I didn’t know of Heschel’s interest in music until I saw the documentary). There is also a webinar that the American Academy of Religion is putting on this Friday about white supremacy, religion, and the insurrection, which intersects with the societal concerns that Heschel refused to be silent about. Heschel provides a powerful example to other scholars of how one can be devout and yet study critically, be an academic and an activist, without sacrificing one to the other.

I highly recommend that you watch this documentary. If you’ve appreciated Heschel (as I have) for his research on the prophets, but were less aware of his work advocating for civil rights, opposing the Vietnam War, and influencing Vatican II, you simply need to see it, as I did. If you already know about all these varied aspects of his life, you’ll cherish the opportunity to hear so many voices, ranging from Heschel’s daughter to civil rights activist John Lewis to biblical scholar Walter Bruggeman, all expressing their appreciation for his life and contribution. At a time when civil rights and antisemitism are pressing issues, the movie is a timely one. When you watch it, please take the time to leave a comment here about what you appreciate about it. I will make sure the filmmaker hears it!

Find out more on the Journey Films website.

An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story

ReligionProf Podcast with Martin Doblmeier: Backs Against The Wall – The Howard Thurman Story

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