A Rabbinic Christmas Eve



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PAUL HARVEY

Here's a little Abraham Joshua Heschel for you, in time for your holiday season: Edward Rothstein, "A Rabbi of His Time, with a Charisma that Transcends It," in today's New York Times. The article references the second volume of Edward Kaplan, Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972 (Yale).

Here's a story, from the life of Heschel, retold in the piece and in the biography:

In 1965, after walking in the Selma-to-Montgomery civil-rights march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was at the Montgomery, Ala., airport, trying to find something to eat. A surly woman behind the snack-bar counter glared at Heschel — his yarmulke and white beard making him look like an ancient Hebrew prophet — and mockingly proclaimed: “Well, I’ll be damned. My mother always told me there was a Santa Claus, and I didn’t believe her, until now.” She told Heschel that there was no food to be had.

In response, according to a new biography, . . . Heschel simply smiled. He gently asked, “Is it possible that in the kitchen there might be some water?” Yes, she acknowledged. “Is it possible that in the refrigerator you might find a couple of eggs?” Perhaps, she admitted. Well, then, Heschel said, if you boiled the eggs in the water, “that would be just fine.”

She shot back, “And why should I?” “Why should you?” Heschel said. “Well, after all, I did you a favor.” “What favor did you ever do me?”

“I proved,” he said, “there was a Santa Claus.”


And after the woman’s burst of laughter, food was quickly served.

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