Abraham Joshua Heschel is a central figure in jewish thought for many particularly non Orthodox American Jews, His political action including his participation in the anti vietnam war movement and civil rights movement based on his religious views is held out as an example for many. In Israel however he is virtually unknown…as he was during his lifetime with many of his most important writings never translated in Hebrew
As with many things in the realm of Jewish life this is somethng that is changing quarters, A young teacher named Dror Bondi—a former demonstrator against Rabin and hard core right winger of the settler movement has taken Heschel as his intellecual . A good profile of Dror is here. He has translated some of his writings into Hebrew into a book that has sold well (more on Dror in another post). He teaches Heschel’ s thought at Ein Prat (see my earlier post) as well as at Beit Yisraell another institution dedicated to the study of religious and secular texts. I have spoken to students of Dror at both places, they all expressed enthusiasm for Dror’s classes. Beit Yisrael itself merits another post it is affiliated with an “urban kibbutz” whose communal living includes a pooling of their salaries.
Earlier this week I attended a program at Beit Yisrael to discuss Heschel. It was a bit out of the way from central jerusalem in Gilo. The room was full with mostly Beit Yisrael students.
But the presenters illustrated the seriousness with which many are taking Heschel’s work.
Susanna Heschel (herself a Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth) spoke of her fathers personality and life she also noted that she thought her father would have moved to Israel…but no one would offer him a job. She spoke warmly of Dror and how, while there are many who write about her father that she doesn’t feel capture his thought, she was very excited that Dror is the person bringing Heschel to the Israeli public. She emphasived her fathers chasidic roots and their impact on his life and thought. She also thanked her chassidic cousin for attending the program
Another speaker was Muki Tsur for decades an intellectual leader in the kibbutz movement. He noted that Israeli Jewry has missed Heschel’s approach to Judaism but now seems in some quarters to be open to it. Tsur spoke of his personal experience with Heschel right after the Six Day war. Tsur was editor of an influential book Siach Lochamim (published in English as the Seventh Day) which was conversations with soldiers which spoke a deep ambivalence to the experience as conquerors. He said Heschel was brought to tears reading from the book.
On the program was RabbiYuval Sherlow rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikvah and a founder of the Tzohar group of more liberal Orthodox Rabbis in Israel. His presence on the program reflected his interest in Heschel unfortunately he did not make it to the program…I was disappointed.
The program was a discussion between the ubiquitous Micha Goodman (who wrote the introduction to Dror’s book) and Dror. Micha spoke of how Heschel reflected an American religiousity across large parts of the population that doesnt exist in Israel. He based his experience on his mother’s family in Oklahoma who are strictly practicing Catholics. He said that in his childhood he though “goy” meant a very religious person.
Dror’s dream is toe establish a Heschel institute in Israel ...what a great opportunity for a bridge to American Jewry.
Beit Yisrael’s pre Army program has one participant this year and next year will have 5 from the NY day schools Ramaz, Heschel and SAR (are you listening LA area day schools ?)