Civil Rights and The Jewish Connection

Creating a Culture of Kindness

Civil Rights and The Jewish Connection

Throughout the generations, the Jewish people have been instrumental in fighting for what is right and just, living the Jewish value Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof- Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue.

Several years ago, when we launched the Legacy Project: Exploring Jewish Values Through Children's Literature, we asked educators from Jewish Day and Congregational Schools throughout South Florida to identify the people in the above picture taken during the 1965 Civil Rights March in Selma, Alabama. While most teachers polled in these schools easily recognized Dr. Martin Luther King, sadly, only a very few knew that the man to the front, far right, was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a revered rabbi and social activist admired by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Consequently, we felt compelled to right "this injustice" and created this brief newsletter/blog. It focuses on one very special book to introduce students (and teachers) to Rabbi Heschel in a profound and powerful way. As Good As Anybody: Martin and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom (along with several activities and supplementary resources) brings to the forefront a Jewish leader, who, like Martin Luther King Jr., dedicated his life to fight prejudice and discrimination and walked (both figuratively and literally ) in the path of justice for all.

As Good As Anybody: Martin and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson Ages:7-11 Grades 2-5

An eloquent tribute to two great men and their surprising alliance. Michelson explores the kinship between the African-American Baptist minister and a Polish-born rabbi who fled Nazi Germany to teach in America. Both men were raised by wise, loving parents and followed in their fathers' footsteps. Both of them also experienced hatred and prejudice close to home. Whether the signs said "Whites Only" or "No Jews Allowed," they were equally hurtful and inspired them to strive for peace and equal rights for all. The first half of the book offers a simple, concise, and beautifully written early biography of King; the latter describes Heschel's youth. His father instructed him to "Walk like a prince, not a peasant….You are as good as anybody," echoing the words of King's mother. He answered Dr. King's call and joined the 1965 March to Montgomery with 25,000 others…" (School Library Journal)

Suggested Activities:
  • Involve students in a Visual Thinking Strategy based on the cover picture. 
--Provide some background information regarding the circumstances leading to the event captured on the cover photo. Can they identify the people on the cover?
--Explain that at the time of the march, Rabbi Heschel felt he was "praying with his legs." What might this mean?
  • Have students compare Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua using a Venn Diagram. 
  • Ask students to select a favorite quote from the book to reflect upon. In a class discussion, allow each to read the quote selected and explain why this quote, above all the others, was chosen. Student may wish to create posters with the quote and their original illustrations. Display in class and around school to inspire others. 
  • Create one symbol to reflect the main message (theme) of the book and write a one sentence explanation. 
Video:Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: Abraham Joshua Heschel (from PBS)
(Note: Select portions as appropriate for your students).

Music Video: "Shed a Little Light"-honoring Martin Luther King Day The Maccabeats and Naturally 7 

 Songs: A collection of a few fantastic tunes that highlight this value

To add context to your study of Heschel as appropriate:
Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Prophet's Prophet (Middle and High School)
Jews in the Civil Right's Movement
Also relevant:
Black History Month Resources from the ADL

Please share ideas, requests or questions about ways you foster a culture of kindness to [email protected].


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