Polish-American Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 -1972)

It is interesting that the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is being celebrated today at the same time that we are holding 100,000 Poets for Change (100TPC) around the world.  Last night I couldn’t help but think of Rabbi Herschel. I tend to connect well and deeply with those who practice their religions with respect for the mystical. Without mysticism religion is just dry cracker, something without much Life or Light.

Rabbi Hershel lost his family to bombings, Nazis, and the camps. During the war, he lived for awhile in Frankfurt. He was arrested by the Gestapo and sent back to Poland. In the melting pot that was 1950s Brooklyn, we had neighbors from Poland, people who had lost everything but their generosity of spirit. Some were Catholic and some were Jewish.

There was one family I particularly loved. I encountered Rabbi Herschel on their bookshelves when I sat with the children. The wife, a beautiful frail creature whose “shell shock” was clear to me even in my early teens, was none-the-less a good mother, wife and friend. The husband, a cantor and devoted family man, let me read whatever I found in English in their house. What was remarkable to me was that he was also willing to take the time to talk to me about what I read.  He encouraged me to speak my mind. With him, I never had to arm myself as the pretty dolt.

“If [a woman or man] were able to survey at a glance all he has done in the course of his life, what would he feel? He would be terrified at the extent of his own power.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Apropro this discssion, I was surprised (I shouldn’t have been) and charmed when I found Michael Dickel’s introduction to The BeZine 100TPC 2017 event wrapped around Yom Kippur. Here’s the introduction (below) … and when you are done reading perhaps you’ll pop over to The BeZine blog and share a poem and/or read those of others. You’d be very welcome.

– Jamie Dedes

American-Israeli Poet, Michael Dickel

This year, the last Saturday of September, the regular day for the Global 100,000 Poets for Change Events around the world, falls on Yom Kippur, considered the Holiest day of the Jewish religion. Observant Jews around the world are fasting, having spent the Days of Awe leading up to Yom Kippur asking the people in their lives for forgiveness and inventorying their transgressions against Creation. Today, we Jews go to synagogue and ask Creation (G-d) for forgiveness. Another name for Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.

First, the order matters: We ask the people in our lives for forgiveness. Then we think how we have acted against the World. Then and only then do we turn to G-d for forgiveness.

Second, saying sorry is not enough, in our tradition. It is a start. In the Jewish tradition, people must also act differently, that is, they must enact the apology with a change in how they are in the world.

Third, human purpose can be understood—in how I have been taught—as working toward Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam is the repair or healing of Creation. While there is definitely a range of interpretations that could be made on what this healing entails, it certainly incorporates attention to the physical world as well as the spiritual. These two intertwine and interrelate in such a way as to be inseparable. Social Justice, Environmental Sustainability, and Peace—and writing, the arts, music in service of activism for positive change—are very relevant issues to our human purpose, from this view.

And thus, on the Holiest Day of the Jewish Year, it is appropriate to work toward Tikkun Olam, asking G-d’s forgiveness for all we have done that harms our fellow humans, inventorying our own role, and moving forward with action that shows our genuine desire to change and make things right again.

And, further, as the spiritual and the physical are interrelated, so are all of the arts (literature, art, music, dance, stage, film…), so are all three of the themes: Social Justice, Environmental Sustainability, and Peace.

So this year, on Yom Kippur, we ask you to join in with your contributions from any of the arts—share your efforts toward healing and repair of our World. As you do, remember this, paraphrased from the sages:

Do not despair at the iniquity and injustice of the world in which we live. For today, that is, in this period where injustice, racism, and greed seem to have risen to power, do not give up or give in.

It is not up to us to complete the work of Tikkun Olam, but this does not free us from working toward the healing and repair of Creation. That is, although we may not achieve our goals of a just, sustainable and peaceful world in our lifetime, we must continue to make progress, and in working toward them, the healing of Creation will occur, one poem, one essay, one novel, one painting, one sculpture, one song, one symphony, one performance at at a time…

By action, not words alone, will this be done. If ever there was a time when this action is more needed than others, certainly now is one—Resistance! Activism! Peace! Sustainability! Social Justice!

by Michael Dickel (Meta/Phor(e)/Play)


  1. Wonderful post, Jamie. Wouldn’t it be fun to sit down at a dinner table and listen in on a conversation between Pope Francis and Rabbi Heschel? Maybe we will be able to do that in Heaven.

    Liked by 3 people

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