Rabbi Susan Grossman

He lives on in me in my social and interfaith activism, as I expect our partners to stand by us as we stand by them.

Beth Shalom Congregation
Columbia, Maryland
A Jewish Perspective

Where did you first encounter Heschel’s work?
When I began to be observant, I was inspired by Heschel’s The Sabbath. Inspired by his walking out of JTS one day to pray with his feet, marching with Rev. King, I established an annual interfaith MLK-AJH Shabbat in 1998 and built a strong social action program in my congregation and community. His approach to Matan / Kabbalah Torah and The Prophets inspired my commitment to the evolution of Jewish law, practice, and justice as a reflection of our evolving understanding of Kabbalat Torah in my work on the Committee for Jewish Laws and Standards (CJLS), in social action, and in my Jewish feminist writings and lecturing.

How did Heschel and his thinking inspire your work, religious life, or civic engagement?
Heschel inspired me in all aspects of my rabbinate, from my civic engagement to my personal theology and religious life, to my teaching. 

In civic engagement, his model inspired me not only to be active in justice issues but to build strong interfaith coalitions that worked together on issues of mutual concern for the Black, Muslim, East Asian, and Jewish communities. This coalition began early in my rabbinate in Westchester as I established the first interfaith black/Jewish Martin Luther King / Abraham Joshua Heschel Sabbath there during MLK weekend in lower Westchester in 1990. I initiated a similar program in Howard County, Maryland, beginning in 1998, that grew into a celebrated part of the Howard County Martin Luther King Weekend Holiday Commemoration, included an interfaith choir, and was attended by most elected and appointed officials, interfaith leaders, congregants of participating houses of worship, neighbors, and friends. This annual event, held in partnership with Black churches and held at my synagogue, Beth Shalom of Columbia, Maryland, laid the foundation for deeper interfaith relationship-building and transitioned to our award-winning Howard County Courageous Conversations, of which I was a founding clergy member with the leading Black minister in town, Rev. Turner, and in cooperation with the late great acolyte of Rev. King, Congressman Elijah Cummings.

I see myself as a Heschelian theologian, building upon his distinction between Matan Torah and Kabbalat Torah as a religious Jewish feminist and in my approach to halakhic development and change, as reflected in my teshuvot (responses) and other work for the CJLS.

What of Heschel lives in you?
Heschel lives on in me as I teach his story to my students of all ages, when we discuss the Holocaust, when we discuss where God is, and as we explore how to live the Sabbath as a temple of time. He lives on in me in my beliefs and my social and interfaith activism, as I expect our partners to stand by us as we stand by them. And he lives on in me, seeking to experience the wonder of creation each day.

Additional Text

Opening Remarks, Twentieth Anniversary, MLK-Heschel Shabbat

The Gates of Prayer Are Always Open

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