Monthly Archives: December 2019

“A New Hasidism: Branches” edited by Rabbi Arthur Green and Ariel Even Mayse— Moving Forward

Green, Arthur Rabbi and Ariel Even Mayse (editors). “A New Hasidism: Branches”,  JPS, 2019.

Moving Forward

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Arthur Green and Ariel Even Mayse take us into the Neo-Hasidism—”a movement that uplifts key elements of Hasidism’s Jewish revival of two centuries ago to reexamine the meaning of existence, see everything anew, and bring the world as it is and as it can be closer together.”

The book looks at Neo-Hasidic approaches to key issues of today. It contains eighteen contributions by leading Neo-Hasidic thinkers beginning with Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Arthur Green. Or Rose looks at reinterpreting the rabbis’ harsh teachings concerning non-Jews. Ebn Leader writes about the dangers of trusting one’s being to a single personality: is it possible for Neo-Hasidism to last as a living tradition without a rebbe? Shaul Magid candidly looks at Shlomo Carlebach and how “the singing rabbi” changed him and why he eventually walked away. Other questions include how women can enter the gendered sphere created by and for men, how we can honor and learn from other religions’ teachings and if the rabbis’ wisdom can guide those who want to reclaim wholeness.

What we read here leads us to once again struggle with Judaism’s legacy and future. We read of a Judaism that is alive and filled with passion, knowledge, yearning for connection with God and while remaining progressive and egalitarian.

“Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King” by Thomas J.Balcerski— A Friendship Between Bachelors

Balcerski, Thomas J. “Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King”, Oxford University Press, 2019.

A Friendship Between Bachelors

Amos Lassen


The friendship of the bachelor politicians James Buchanan (1791-1868) of Pennsylvania and William Rufus King (1786-1853) of Alabama has been filled with speculation through the years. We wonder why they never married, if they were gay and was their relationship  was simply a friendship.

Thomas J. Balcerski explores the lives of these two politicians and finds one of the most significant collaborations in American political history. He traces the men’s personal and professional and parallel lives before elected office, including their failed romantic courtships and the stories they have been told about them. They were unlikely companions from the beginnings, they lived together as congressional messmates in a Washington, D.C., boardinghouse and became close confidantes. Around the  capital, they were mocked for their effeminacy and perhaps their sexuality, and they were compared to Siamese twins. Over time, their intimate friendship blossomed into an important cross-sectional political partnership. Balcerski examines their contributions to the Jacksonian political agenda, manifest destiny, and the  divisive debates over slavery, while going against the interpretations that the men lacked political principles and deserved blame for the breakdown of the union. He closely examines and shares each man’s rise to national prominence, as William Rufus King was elected vice-president in 1852 and James Buchanan the nation’s fifteenth president in 1856, despite the political gossip that surrounded them.

While exploring a same-sex relationship that powerfully shaped national events in the antebellum era, we see that intimate male friendships among politicians were, and continue to be, an important part of success in American politics.

This is a pathbreaking study that suggests new ways to understand political alliances in the late antebellum years. Not simply a dual biography of two influential public men, the book also situates the much gossiped-about King-Buchanan relationship within larger patterns of intimate male friendships common to the nineteenth century.  Writer Balcerski writes about the importance of male intimacy in antebellum political culture in a new light. It is an exhaustively researched study that is discerning analysis of a distinctive, intimate friendship that crossed sectional and perhaps sexual, boundaries.

We go back into a nineteenth-century political world that depended on vicious partisanship and intimate, loving male friendships “that provided affection and support as well as serving to advance common political interests.” Balcerski explores the boardinghouses where most early nineteenth-century congressmen lived and asks how the close friendships that developed in these settings were understood in this country. He pays careful attention to the ways in which contemporaries described, praised, and attacked the intimate yet public bond between Buchanan and King. We become aware of the factors that can ruin friendships and rupture nations. We read of the way personal networks and informal groups, such as messes, ran Washington in the mid 19th century.

To understand the lives of the two men, it is necessary to understand politics. There was a division between the two men, both physically and emotionally; the political competition in which they lived; the disagreement facets that, individually and together, are fascinating to read about. The affection between the two men is clear even though we’ll never completely know the real nature of it.

This is a detailed look that follows the journey of King and Buchanan and helps give readers a l sense of this under-appreciated and under-studied period of American history. Filled with back matter– organized timelines, notes, addresses, important people, and an extensive bibliography make this a great source of information. Here is a controversial topic related in a narrative voice about a topic that was once hush-hush.

“THE GOLDEN GLOVE”— A True Crime Recaptured

“THE GOLDEN GLOVE”

A True Crime Recaptured

Amos Lassen

Fatih Akin’s “The Golden Glove” is about Fritz Honka (Jan Dassler). a serial killer who murdered older women (some of whom were prostitutes) in Hamburg in the mid 1970s. Beginning in the immediate aftermath of his first killing in 1970, the film details the Honka’s three next murders and stretches all the way up to his arrest in 1975.

Honka (who was 35 in 1970) is a psychotic boozehound. Under Akin’s direction, Dassler is menacing and grimly comedic, wheezing and sweating as he drags his victims’ body parts into a compartment in his attic room before covering the remnants with car air fresheners.

This is an unsettling watch. Akin may not show a lot of the grislier details on-screen but he revels in the mere suggestion, not least with regards to Honka’s apparent fetish of sexually assaulting his victims with household objects. Akin parades around a young woman named Petra (Greta Sophie Schmidt) who lingers in the viewer’s mind. The film suggests that Honka’s frustrations over not seducing younger, more attractive girls led him to kill the older women he took home from the bar, The Golden Glove.

Akin once again uses his long-serving cinematographer Rainer Klausmann to film a Dickensian grotesque world full of overflowing ashtrays and distorted characters, especially with regards to the patrons of the Glove – who he affectionately christens with names like Anus, Ernie the Nose and SS Norbert. If the film has a message it is perhaps a comment on the generation gap between the Glove’s decrepit bar patrons and the freshly faced Petra, who appears representative of a hopeful new Germany, perhaps one that will soon be freed from its grim past.

 The dregs of society wind up in Hamburg’s red light district and a sleazy bar known as The Golden Glove (Der Goldene Handschuh). It is the hunting ground of Honka, an unskilled laborer and bottom feeder whose murders are detailed, without too many scruples or explanations. Watching old alcoholic prostitutes being lured to their deaths has the morbid fascination of all true-crime tales might be too much for most viewers to take.

Akin’s prostitutes are pitiable and they seem to have had very few choices in their sad lives, but no redemption is possible, unless you count the Salvation Army lady who saves one of the women.

Though the killer is real, the film is based on a recent novel. Honka has just murdered his first victim and stays around his attic home, thinking how to dispose of the body. It is night and his first attempt to drag a body bag down the rickety stairs wakes the building. The loud thumping sounds have an undeniably comic effect, as does the misshapen ogre’s face of Jonas Dassler. He has no choice but to saw the lady to pieces and wrap the result up like bloody pieces of meat. When it turns out to be too risky to dump the body parts in an empty lot, he hits on the idea of simply walling them up behind a wooden trap door in his apartment, where they stink to high heaven. He blames the smell on a Greek family cooking downstairs.

Much of the action takes place in the bar where losers and boozers hang out. Even the sad collection of aged hookers slumped around the tables can’t stomach making nice to the ugly Fritz. But he knows how to win their favor with free drinks and the offer of more back in his apartment.

Then there are the two “normal” women he lusts after, who unwittingly assume the roles of angel and devil. The angel is Petra, a pouting blonde teen goddess who meets him while slumming in the red light district with a reckless schoolmate. The devil is an attractive office cleaning woman who, just when poor Fritz has gone sober and is cleaning up his life, entices him off the wagon and back to hell.

The film is so viscerally disgusting, with trash strewn on every surface, feces caked on every toilet, and mold growing in every jar of sausages. The viewer is assaulted with nonstop brutality and moral emptiness.

Director Akin grew up in the same working-class Hamburg neighborhood where Honka murdered at least four women between 1971 and 1974. He has said the movie is about both “humanity” and “nothing,” which in practice combines to make a movie about “how humans are, in the end, nothing more than meat—rotten, stinking meat infested with maggots, tucked into the crawlspace of a flophouse attic apartment.” We see this  in the film’s opening scene, which begins with a shot of a woman’s leg clad in a drooping stocking, twisted up in the bloodstained sheets on a sagging bed. A man enters from just out of frame, drags her limp body onto the carpet, strips her of her panties and girdle, and pulls out a saw. It is easy to imagine the rest. 

This is the most tasteful of the movie’s four murder scenes; the sound effects are absolutely sickening, but the actual sawing off of the woman’s head is framed so it’s out of sight, blocked off behind a door. Over the course of the film, the violence moves from the edges of the story to its center, both visually and in terms of Honka’s increasingly mental state. Four years go by between the opening and the rest of the film—which, aside for a brief interlude where Honda gets a job as a night watchman at a sterile office building, is a cycle of heavy drinking, sexual assault with a variety of household objects, and rage-fueled murder. While the opening scene is undoubtedly shocking, the growing effect of this despair is ultimately even more unsettling.

Akin leaves his intention in focusing on the violent degradation of these women open to interpretation. There’s tangible empathy in scenes where each woman reveals her tragic backstory. Honka himself is also portrayed in a humiliating light; Dassler wears facial prosthetics that ooze in closeup, and Honka’s tiny penis makes several appearances. He’s an impotent misogynist who’d be pathetic if he wasn’t so irredeemable, and the movie is repulsed by him most of all. But, it’s hard to shake the thought that Akin is indulging in a little cruelty of his own by putting the victims in with all this smelly trash. 

Whatever pleasure there is to be found in watching a film like this is in the intellectualizing, and the film does prompt a series of provocative questions about the implicit contract between artist and audience. Akin clearly knows what he’s doing in terms of filmmaking, and the fact of the matter is that this is a more realistic depiction of what serial murder actually looks like than the vast majority of films on the subject. The real question is how many more variations on its particular theme do we need for us to understand that serial killers are bad?

“MONOCHROME: Black White & Blue” The Blues and the People

“MONOCHROME: Black White & Blue”

The Blues and the People

Amos Lassen

In “Monochrome:, director Jon Brewer breaks down the history of not only blues music but also the plight of the people in America’s deep south. He brings us the story of blues of life through interviews, live musical performances and sweeping landscapes. The film features artists and luminaries such as Morgan Freeman, Chuck Berry, Bill Wyman, B.B. King, Jake Bugg, Carlos Santana, Ronnie Wood Eric Clapton, Robert Cray among others. From America’s deep South, to Detroit and New York, the film traces the evolution of blues through pivotal moments in American history. Brewer learns that there was no music called ‘the blues’ when its creators just stepped into a new feel of musical expressionism— a means of releasing a lifetime of pain and oppression, from which music would momentarily set them free.

I was surprised with what I didn’t know about the blues, slavery, the Civil Rights movement and black culture in America. Brewer re-sets trends of thinking about blues music and its roots showing that there was no music called ‘blues’ when the original creators stepped into a new feel of musical expressionism. The music set them free.

Starting in the early 1800’s Louisiana, we see that slave trading and transportation of slaves from Haiti and Africa, bring with them a drum beat musical style and a destiny towards which together they were able to lose themselves for a while. Brewer defragments the history of the music and the people in America’s deep south.

“MARTIN BARRE: Live In NYC”— A Rare Concert

“MARTIN BARRE: Live In NYC”

A Rare Concert

Amos Lassen

Martin Barre who is  best-known as guitarist in Jethro Tull, one of the biggest selling progressive bands of all time, brings his guitar to New York City in this rare concert that captures his solo band live as they play the classic hits that earned him a reputation as one of the signature guitarists of his time. This deluxe collector’s edition contains a Concert DVD coupled with two Audio CDs of the entire concert and packaged in a gorgeous eight-panel digi pak.

Disc: 1

  1. Hammer
  2. To Cry You A Song
  3. Minstrel In The Gallery
  4. Steal Your Heart Away
  5. Back To Steel
  6. Love Story
  7. Misere
  8. Eleanor Rigby
  9. Sweet Dream
  10. Rock Me Baby
  11. Thick As A Brick
  12. Blackest Eyes

Disc: 2

  1. Skating Away
  2. Crossroads
  3. Martin’s Jig
  4. Hymn 43
  5. Bad Man
  6. A Song For Jeffrey
  7. Moment of Madness
  8. Teacher
  9. Fatman
  10. A New Day Yesterday
  11. Locomotive Breath

“BLUEBIRD”— The Origins of Country Megastars

“BLUEBIRD”

The Origins of  Country Megastars

Amos Lassen

“Bluebird” is a beautiful documentary about the famed and historic Bluebird Cafe. We see the venue, go behind the scenes a bit, and hear from the various songwriters both established and aspiring. I can only imagine how many great songs have been heard between the walls of the Bluebird.

In 1982 the legendary music venue opened in a small strip mall in Nashville. It was headed by Amy Kurland. It was small (just 90 seats) and was the best kept secret in town. It was and still is a place for songwriters to come and play their songs, hoping that a performing artist or record label would want to buy a song and hire them. Unlike the singers, it’s all about the lyrics.

In 2008 Kurland sold the venue to the Non-profit Nashville Songwriters Association International and Erika Wollam Nichols became the Bluebird’s COO. It was still off the beaten path and known mostly to songwriters (who would line up for auditions to appear on open mike night.

Then the ABC TV series “Nashville” set many of the scenes in a recreated “Bluebird Café” on the set in Hollywood and tourists arrived to the real Bluebird. It still holds under 100 people and tickets sell out within minutes of going on sale. There are nights when stars like Pam Tillis or Vince Gill or Garth Brooks show up (often unannounced) but it’s mostly songwriter we’ve never heard of but whose lyrics we know that come there.  

For those who can’t travel to Nashville or get a ticket, we have this wonderful 83-minute documentary by director Brian A. Loschiavo that gives us a very good idea of the Bluebird Café experience. We hear from Kurland, Nichols and the bartender from a long time ago. There are short partial performances by “aspiring” songwriters, and some performers like Garth Brooks (who starts his hit “The Dance” and then turns the performance over to the song’s composer Tony Arata. There are a few full songs including one by Taylor Swift.

The documentary is beautifully crafted and takes us into the world of this magical, intimate little music venue. It is as if feel we are transported into the venue and we laugh, cry and smile. This is an amazing story told by the songwriters who helped make the place what it is today.

“Bad Company: Official Authorized 40th Anniversary Documentary” — THE BAND, THE MUSIC, THE STORY

“Bad Company: Official Authorized 40th Anniversary Documentary”

THE BAND, THE MUSIC, THE STORY

Amos Lassen

Director Jon Brewer’s tribute Bad Company’s  highlights major hit tracks and celebrates some of rock’s hottest anthems in the company of the group’s remaining three members: Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke and Mick Ralphs, alongside contemporaries Brian May, Zoot Money, Sam Moore, Joe Elliott, Jason Bonham and many more.

Forty years is a long time and there aren’t many bands who can j celebrate that amount of time. This documentary film about legendary British rockers Bad Company shows us that this was more than just a supergroup that was put together to heal wounds left by the members’ previous outfits and a real statement of intent by four talented musicians looking to become something more.

We get a sense of time and place when looking at the early years of each band member and the beginnings of Bad Company. The late-’60s/early-’70s was a fertile hotbed of young musicians looking to go louder, heavier and funkier than their predecessors. We see a lot of footage of singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke in their previous band Free when they were still in their teens when they got their break.

Guitarist Mick Ralphs played in Mott the Hoople before joining Rodgers and Kirke in Bad Company and his career is given a decent contextual setting with contributions from  Ian Hunter helping to set the scene. Sadly, bassist Boz Burrell died in 2006 but his contribution is eulogized by the three surviving members plus other notable musicians who were touched by his off-kilter way of playing.

The documentary covers all of the band’s activities up to present day including their original split in the early 1980s.. There are obviously plenty of stories to tell and we get the sense that the band members may be holding back a little bit with some of their anecdotes— maybe an unauthorized account would be a little more sensational.

We have a lengthy interview with director Jon Brewer, who shares that the hardest part of making the film was trying to find decent archive footage of the band, and this is very evident whilst watching the DVD. The footage that we see  has people talking over it which and while it is informative, it is also quite distracting and we never really get to see or hear the band in full flight without being told what we’re looking at. It’s not a big problem since there are full concert DVD’s available elsewhere but hearing a whole song – or at least a verse and a chorus – without somebody speaking over it would have been great.

Nevertheless, “Bad Company: The Official Authorized 40th Anniversary Documentary is still a fascinating account of one of Britain’s best hard rock bands. The band has a solid catalogue of songs, many of which still are heard on the radio today, and hearing the band talking so passionately about what they all describe as the best years of their lives really is fascinating.

Formed in 1973, Bad Company originally consisted of Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs, Boz Burrell, and Simon Kirke and was managed by legendary manager of Led Zeppelin Peter Grant. In a career that has seen them release an incredible twelve studio, two compilation and four live albums, six have been certified platinum/multi-platinum and eight Gold in the US and UK, with top 10 albums and singles worldwide. Director Brewer wastes no time in getting down to the nitty gritty with the three remaining members of the band who are interviewed in a variety of situations, either alone or sometimes together spread out over different locations and time zones. They quite happily discuss how the band formed, how the chemistry they had generated into the classic songs they wrote and then eventually, how it all slowly fell apart.

“DANIEL ISN’T REAL”— A Homoerotic Fantasy

“DANIEL ISN’T REAL”

A Homoerotic Fantasy

Amos Lassen

 Director/writer Adam Egypt Mortimer’s “Daniel Isn’t Real” is a dark story that attempts to help the viewer better understand mental health issues and a personal demon. It’s a  psychological horror that is slickly directed and written based on the 2009 novel In “The Way I Was Saved” by Brian DeLeeuw, who is also the co-writer.

The film opens with a bloody mass shooting at a diner. That is witnessed by the 8-year-old Luke (played as a kid by Griffin Robert Faulkner), who finds himself taken to a nearby park from the horrific crime scene by an imaginary friend Daniel (Nathan Reid). Luke is a lonely rich boy, whose parents constantly fight. Luke is helped at home by the imaginary friend and they become playmates and seem happy together. Luke’s mentally challenged mother Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson) looks on and is glad Luke is happy playing with an imaginary friend.

Then Luke’s mother believes the imaginary friend got her son to poison her drink so she places him in the dollhouse and forbids him to play with her son. We then see Luke as a young adult; a freshman attending a boarding college who has adjustment problems at school. (He’s now played by Miles Robbins). At a student party he has a seizure. The sinister Daniel (now played by Patrick Schwarzenegger) uses this opportunity to re-enter his friend’s life and helps Luke relate to the coeds. He gets Luke to assert himself with his roommates and to use drugs. When Luke falls for the free-spirited artist Cassie (Sasha Lane), Daniel takes over Luke’s body and makes it with his girl.

From this point on, things become really strange and Luke descends into uncontrollable madness. He has far-out hallucinations while Daniel completely takes over his body by crawling inside him. Luke goes to a therapist (Chukwudi Iwuji) for help and is who advised to confront his demon. Here begins Luke’s battle with Daniel, the demon in him and fights for his sanity. Luke battles his alter ego for control.

Director Mortimer’s repeated use of unmotivated visual symbols—spirals will reappear at significant moments—adds an art-film aura to this familiar story of masculinity on the verge of violent disintegration. This abstract symbolism, along with the use of oversaturated colors and visions of bodily transmogrification, makes the film feel as if it is part of the genre of psychological horror.

.As the title tells us, Daniel isn’t real. Luke’s mother refers to him as an “imaginary friend,” but viewers guess from the moment Daniel appears on screen, that there may be more to him. Repressed for much of Luke’s life—shut away, semi-metaphorically, in Claire’s dollhouse. Luke grows into an aspiring photographer beset by his mother’s declining mental health, and his rediscovered ego-ideal represents a violent personality he both represses and desires.

The queer subtext here is unmistakable, particularly when Daniel helps Luke cheat on a physics exam by stripping nude to reveal the answers written on his body. Daniel is seen as an evil and pernicious influence on the straight boy that DeLeeuw and Mortimer don’t let us forget that Luke is. They conjure up a female love interest to serve as a hinge in the plot, a reason for Luke to reject Daniel’s excessive masculinity. Cassie and her bad-girl foil, Sophie (Hannah Marks), are there to defuse the homoerotic tension between Luke and his fantasy man.

Luke’s only defining characteristic is his struggle with his inner demon. Daniel, too, is a broadly sketched version of an inner demon. Schwarzenegger plays Daniel as a vain demon, the devil on Luke’s shoulder that is either a manifestation of Luke’s inherited tendency toward schizophrenia or an actual demon, often compelling Luke to make the kind of bad decisions that college undergraduates might make anyway. In the end, the simplistic association of drugs and sex with Daniel’s accompanying love of violence and murder betrays the conventional morality that is behind the film’s extreme imagery.

Lyle Vincent’s cinematography is colorful yet dark, and the compositions of his shots create real menace right from the first scene. There are some extraordinary practical effects and strong direction from Mortimer that make this an interesting film that should be seen if only for enjoyment of something different.

“A New Hasidism: Roots” edited by Rabbi Arthur Green and Ariel Evan Mayse— Neo-Hasidism— The Beginnings

Green, Rabbi Arthur and Ariel Evan Mayse (editors). “A New Hasidism: Roots”, Jewish Publication Society, 2019.

Neo-Hasidism— The Beginnings

Amos Lassen

The new Hasidism adds the Hasidic masters’ spiritual insights (“of God’s presence everywhere, of seeking the magnificent within the everyday, in doing all things with love and joy, uplifting all of life to become a vehicle of God’s service”) to contemporary Judaism, as practiced by men and women who do not live within the strictly bounded world of the Hasidic community. 

This is the first anthology of Neo-Hasidic philosophy and it brings together the writings of its progenitors: five great twentieth-century European and American Jewish thinkers—Hillel Zeitlin, Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Shlomo Carlebach, and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and adds a young Arthur Green. The thinkers reflect on the inner life of the individual and their dreams of creating a Neo-Hasidic spiritual community. In the introductions by the editors we get an analysis of each thinker’s contributions to Neo-Hasidic thought and their influence on the movement. Zeitlin and Buber initiated a renewal of Hasidism for the modern world; Heschel’s work is filled with Neo-Hasidic thought; Carlebach and Schachter-Shalomi re-created Neo-Hasidism for American Jews in the 1960s; and Green is the first American-born Jewish thinker fully identified with the movement. We also have previously unpublished materials by Carlebach and Schachter-Shalomi that include an interview with Schachter-Shalomi about his decision to leave Chabad-Lubavitch and embark on his own Neo-Hasidic path.

Many have found inspiration from Hasidism yet they themselves are not Hasidic. Here we have critical texts that can be used to construct Neo-Hasidism for the modern world. There is a great deal of spiritual wisdom to contemplate along with the history and contemporary character of Neo-Hasidism. The first volume gives us the ‘roots’ of the modern reinterpretation of Hasidism in Europe and America. Neo-Hasidism has had a great impact on contemporary Jewish life; “its influence has penetrated farther and wider than is usually acknowledged.” We learn here what Neo-Hasidism really is, what are its main teachings, and where do those ideas stem from? 

Here are answers the questions that so many of us have about forming a new community. I believe that what makes Judaism so unique is its ability for fluidity and adaptability. We certainly see that here.

“Abraham Joshua Heschel: Mind, Heart, Soul” by Edward K. Kaplan— A Life

Kaplan, Edward K. “Abraham Joshua Heschel: Mind, Heart, Soul”, Abridged, Jewish Publication Society, 2019

A Life

Amos Lassen

Edward K. Kaplan’s “Abraham Joshua Heschel: mind, Heart, Soul” is the first one-volume English-language full biography of Heschel and it is an “engrossing, behind-the-scenes story of the life, philosophy, struggles, yearnings, writings, and activism of one of the twentieth century’s most outstanding Jewish thinkers”.

Heschel’s life was filled with challenges, successes and emotions. As a child he was part of the Hasidic community of Warsaw. He then went on to explore secular Jewish Vilna and cosmopolitan Berlin. He found a way to be awarded his doctorate in Nazi-dominated Berlin, escaped the Nazis, and managed to get a rare visa to the United States.

Heschel’s  interpretations of Jewish ideas were original and he was able to establish relationships over the Jewish denominational spectrum and the Catholic and Protestant faith communities. He was a militant voice for nonviolent social action, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr., expressed strong opposition to the Vietnam War and helped reverse long-standing antisemitic Catholic Church doctrine on Jews. He participated in a secret meeting with Pope Paul VI during Vatican II.

We read of Heschel’s mind, heart, and soul. We see how Heschel was torn between faith and anguish; between love of God and hatred of human apathy, moral weakness, and deliberate evil; “between the compassion of the Baal Shem Tov and the Kotzker rebbe’s cruel demands for truth.”  

Kaplan takes the two-volume  definitive Heschel biography and distils it to one very readable volume filled with Heschel’s activism and intellectualism.

The biography is timely. We are living at a time when we need “the wisdom, courage, and compassion of the inimitable Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The very future of our world depends, in part, on the legacy of Heschel’s prophetic witness.” Heschel lives by his words here and we become so aware of his “extraordinary personality, theology, prophetic voice, and monumental contributions to Jewish thought, interfaith understanding, and the moral soul of America.”  Here is Heschel the man as seen through Kaplan’s love.