In this season of Yizkor, on the 50th yahrtzeit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination this month, the heart turns to one of the most iconic photos in American Jewish history. It was taken in Selma, Ala., on a Sunday in 1965, just prior to Martin Luther King’s march to the state capitol in Montgomery. There, at the front of the march, just to the left of King, is a white-bearded man, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who looks nothing less than a prophet, spiritually regal, but lonely, as prophets often were. Well, as regal as they could be after a Hawaiian supporter ran up to them and draped them in bright leis, bringing smiles on a day that was already too tense.
While the issue of economic justice was front and center in the coverage of the anniversary of King’s death, it’s easy to lose sight of the kind of interfaith embrace the photograph captures. Heschel and King, born in very different corners of the world, would eventually cross paths, two prophets who became friends and fellow marchers for justice.