Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
Born in Warsaw into a Hasidic dynasty in 1907, Abraham Joshua Heschel was ordained in Europe. He also pursued a secular education, but was unable to finish his doctorate in Germany because of anti-Semitism. After Adolf Hitler came to power and began his campaign against the Jews, many rabbinic seminaries in America invited European rabbis to teach at their schools. In this way, Abraham Joshua Heschel came to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of America (the Reform movement's seminary) in 1940. Later, he moved to the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary, feeling that this was a better fit with his traditional Jewish background and views.
Abraham Joshua Heschel is considered to be one of the great theologians of the twentieth century. He wrote on many Jewish topics including the Prophets. Heschel's experience during the Holocaust and his study of the Jewish prophets influenced his belief that Judaism required of one both deeds and actions. Known as "Father Abraham" to many of Martin Luther King's followers, Abraham Joshua Heschel was an outspoken activist for civil rights who marched with King, met with John F. Kennedy about civil rights legislation, and is celebrated by many in the Jewish community for his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and other movements for social justice. His reflection on participating in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March, 1965 -- "I felt my legs were praying" -- has become a model of activism as religious practice.