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Healing Wounds: Reflections on Abraham Joshua Heschel and Interfaith Partnership in Poland

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Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) was born in Warsaw, Poland, in a devout Hasidic community and earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Berlin during Hitler's rise to power. He immigrated to the United States in 1940 and became a Judaic scholar, writer, teacher, theologian, and social activist. Heschel influenced the drafting of Nostra Aetate during the Second Vatican Council, and Christians and Jews saw Heschel as an embodiment of a Hebrew prophet. Yet Heschel himself was irremediably wounded by the Holocaust. He remained vulnerable, hypersensitive to other people's pain, bereft of consolation. Long impressed by a web of associations on the role of predominantly Roman Catholic Poles in the destruction of European Jews, I had to confront my own negative "imaginary" during eight days I recently spent in Poland, filled with Jewish content. Participation in an international, interfaith conference on Heschel at the University of Warsaw in June 2007, and in the Jewish culture festival in Krakow, managed to convince me that non-Jews could develop and help foster an authentic understanding of Judaism and the Jewish experience. Despite persistent memories of atrocities, my feelings toward Poland and the Poles underwent a transformation. If Heschel's wounds were not ultimately healed, at least my negative imaginary has begun to give way to a hopeful future.

Affiliations: 1: Brandeis University

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