Susannah Heschel, "Following in my father's footsteps: Selma 40 years later"
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[Susannah Heschel, commenting on the 40th anniversary of her father, Abraham Joshua Heschel's civil rights march in Selma, Alabama] For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration, but a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism's political activism and also of the traditions of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic revival movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, according to which walking could be a spiritual experience. He said it reminded him of the message of the prophets, whose primary concern was social injustice, and of his Hasidic forebears, for whom compassion for the suffering of other people defined a religious person. Jim and I hope we can raise our daughters with the spirit of Selma, and convey to them the combination of prophetic activism and Hasidic spirituality that my father taught. While they are too young now-four and six-to understand the significance of their weekend in Alabama, we hope they will retain a sense of the spirit of the movement. When he came home from Selma in 1965, my father wrote, "For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."
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Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. What does it mean that civil rights can be seen as a "religious occasion?" How can, and does, religion serve as a unique lens for civil rights?

2. How can and have American Jews expressed a commitment to social action that they were unable to display while ghettoized in Europe?

3. How does Susannah Heschel respond to her father's heroic stance? How does she synthesize his beliefs and sayings?

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Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)