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 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, scheduled to air on ABC-affiliated stations nationwide in May 2015, features commentary from those who personally knew Heschel, including his daughter Susannah Heschel (a noted scholar in her own right), those who studied him, and those who aim to live by his precepts.
Abraham Joshua Heschel’s immense influence as a social critic has tended to overshadow the eloquence of his writing. Heschel 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 twenty-one, these poems express themes Heschel explored throughout his life: the mystery of the Divine, a passion for truth and his solidarity with the marginalized.