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Unquestionably, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the great religious figures of the 20th century. He was also one of the most important social critics of his time: an outspoken civil rights advocate, anti-war activist, renowned philosopher, scholar, teacher and mystic.
But in the beginning, and some would argue in the end, he was a poet.
Every Word Has Power: The Poetry of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel celebrates Heschel’s words with a concert performance of his poetry set to music by noted singer, composer and musician Basya Schechter. This one-hour documentary began airing on ABC-affiliated stations nationwide in May 2015 and features Dr. Susannah Heschel, Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College; Peter Geffen, founder of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School; Rabbi Shai Held, author, Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence; and Dr. Edward Kaplan, author, Spiritual Radical, Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972.
Rabbi Heschel’s immense influence as a social critic has tended to overshadow the eloquence of his writing. He was a masterful poet, artistry he revealed in his years as a university student. Later on, he would lose his mother and sisters to the Holocaust. Yet despite such tragedy, in the years just after World War II, Heschel married, had a child, and wrote five books, including some of his most well known works. As he would later put it, he found a way to turn “sorrow into song.” The lyricism of Rabbi Heschel’s prose and poetry reflect his deep appreciation of language: he wrote eloquently in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and German.
The concert, shot at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center features ten of Heschel’s poems. Though written when he was just in his twenties, these poems express themes Heschel explored throughout his life: the mystery of the Divine, a passion for truth and his solidarity with the marginalized.
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What they’re saying about EVERY WORD HAS POWER…
“Heschel was more than a poet and Basya Schechter is more than a musician. But here both deploy their special craft in the service of the other. Heschel’s words and Basya’s melody. What results is beauty.”
Rabbi Dr. Shaul Magid
Professor of Jewish Studies, Indiana University/Bloomington
Fire Island Synagogue
“Amazingly beautiful and deeply touching… powerfully speaking a new vision, a new way of seeing and experiencing that came deeply from who he is and his rich religious tradition.”
Sister Judith Ann Duvall, O.S.F.
“Every Word Has Power assembles some of Judaism’s greatest hearts, minds, and souls who, through creativity and passion, amplify Heschel’s call to be poetic pioneers of the spirit.”
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom
“I loved it. What an amazing poet and the music that was performed was absolutely soulful. It is as if Basya channeled Rabbi Heschel.”
Bishop Peggy Johnson
United Methodist Church
“This documentary brings Rabbi Heschel’s teachings to me in a deeper way than ever before, filling my soul with light, hope, promise and joy. Music and Rabbi Heschel’s beautiful poetry bring all of us to a place of living free, living whole and living holy.”
Rabbi Mark Borovitz
“A beautiful and insightful video…bringing Heschel studies to a higher level.”
Dr. Edward Kaplan, Ph.D.
Professor of Humanities, Brandeis University
Author, Spiritual Radical, Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972