“When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” So said Polish-born American rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) of his involvement in the 1965 Selma civil rights march alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Heschel, who spoke with a fiery moralistic fervor, dedicated his career to the struggle to improve the human condition through faith. In this new biography, Julian Zelizer tracks Heschel’s early years and foundational influences—his childhood in Warsaw and early education in Hasidism, his studies in late 1920s and early 1930s Berlin, and the fortuitous opportunity, which brought him to the United States and saved him from the Holocaust, to teach at Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. This deep and complex portrait places Heschel at the crucial intersection between religion and progressive politics in mid-twentieth-century America. To this day Heschel remains a symbol of the fight to make progressive Jewish values relevant in the secular world.
Julian E. Zelizer on Abraham Joshua Heschel
in conversation with David W. Blight
Thursday, January 20, 6 pm on Zoom
Julian E. Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a CNN Political Analyst and a regular guest on NPR’s “Here and Now.” He is the author and editor of 22 books, including, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society and Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974, co-authored with Kevin Kruse, and Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party. The New York Times named the book as an Editor’s Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books in 2020. He is currently working on a new book about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the 1964 Democratic Convention. Zelizer, who has published over 1000 op-eds, has received fellowships from the Brookings Institution, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the New York Historical Society, and New America. He also co-hosts a podcast called Politics & Polls.
David W. Blight is the Sterling Professor of History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. Previously, Blight was a professor of History at Amherst College, where he taught for 13 years. Blight is the author of Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War, among many other works. He has won several awards, including the Bancroft Prize and Frederick Douglass Prize for Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, and the Pulitzer Prize and Lincoln Prize for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. In 2021 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.