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Poster Commentary
"When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying."Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Poster design:Paula Scher


by Erica Brown

Praying is not limited to a sanctuary and a prayer book. We pray when we live our values with the totality of ourselves. Such was Abraham Joshua Heschel’s commitment to racial equality and social justice. As a towering rabbinic luminary, he understood the power of the library and the synagogue. But as a force for goodness, Rabbi Heschel also knew when it was time to leave the library and take to the streets for the causes you believe in. Marching for civil rights was for him a form of prayer. In one of the most famous photos of him, Heschel is seen protesting only a few steps away from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Heschel’s life (1907–1972) spanned the better part of the 20th century. Only weeks before the Nazis invaded Poland, he received a visa to London, while most of his immediate family was killed by the Germans, including his mother and three of his sisters. He later came to the United States and for close to 30 years was an esteemed professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

For Rabbi Heschel, prayer was not only about achieving protest. It was also about seeking spirituality in a modern age that often tries to expunge the role of God and replace it with human accomplishments. Some of Heschel’s most famous philosophical works charge human beings to sanctify time and space and to rediscover the power of wonder. Heschel's famous expression “radical amazement” embodies his gift for highlighting spiritual curiosity and grandeur. His writings are filled with moments of transcendence.


Conversation Guide


The commentary to this poster points to the transcendental nature of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s famous march in Selma for civil rights. Heschel discovered profound religious meaning in acts of social justice and in the civil rights movement.

What does Heschel mean that marching for civil rights in Selma with Martin Luther King, Jr. felt as if his “legs were praying”? How can a march be compared to prayer?

How can the act of promoting social justice become a religious experience for someone? Can you think of other situations in which mundane experiences are infused with, and sanctified by, spiritual meaning? 

Have you personally had a transcendent moment in which you felt the day-to-day transformed into a spiritual experience?



Each image calls out to us to examine it, to note our thoughts and feelings, and relate these impressions to the quotation. Often clues in the artwork suggest meaning and invite interpretation.

Graphic designer Paula Scher’s image draws us back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s during which Americans rallied to end discrimination and grant equal rights to persons of color.   

How does the image present the quotation? Was this how you interpreted the quotation without the image?

Civil rights marches often drew thousands of participants. Why do you think the artist chose to depict just one marcher?

Why might the artist have chosen to depict only the lower, bottom half of the figure, and not the face?

Does this image convey the notion of praying, mentioned in the quotation? How so?


Copyright© 2012 Harold Grinspoon Foundation

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Masters Series©2012, Paula Scher, Quote: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,

Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA