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BBC Rabbi School Diaries: Episode 7: Paris, Prayer and Football

rsd7In Rabbi School we are exploring the sometime complex concept of pray and the views of leading 20th century rabbis on this topic. The course covers Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who is claimed by several traditions within Judaism. For me, Heschel is best remembered as the civil rights rabbi who went to Selma and marched alongside Dr Martin Luther King. He claimed at Selma he was ‘praying with his legs’.

In a number of his essays he expresses his concerns that 1950s American congregations had a disconnect from prayer. He paints a depressing portrait , perhaps for Heschel, of a generation who are forgetting how to pray: of synagogues turning into arenas rather than a community of full participants. He is critical of communities where the rabbi or cantor prefers to perform in front of his congregations rather than to lead pray amongst them For him you and leaning on his own Hassidic tradition have to put your whole self into prayer ‘in a complete turning of heart towards G-d” “in a yielding of the soul”.

heschel_selmaEvents always seem to takeover. Paris. Tragedy strikes again.I had accepted a few weeks back an invitation to attend the England v France match at Wembley with members of the FA’s Faith in Football group which I chair… what had been a run-of-the-mill friendly was now something far more.
Stepping out onto Olympic Way at Wembley with my son seemed like an act of defiance. It seemed that every fan walking down that road was sending a message and that every step was an act of faith.

The Wembley arch was lit up in red, white and blue. The words ‘liberté, egalité, fraternité’ emblazoned across the stadium.

FullSizeRender[2]We met my friends at the entrance. One of them had worn a hijab to the match said that although she had been nervous coming to the match dressed in religious attire she was surprised at how warm the England fans had been to her. There was a feeling of togetherness as 75,000 fans sang the Marseilaises: true that some did not know the meaning of the words “but they seemed to be completely turning their hearts to it” perhaps even “yielding their soul”. At half-time,we took a group photo. We decided to tweet and Facebook the photo: “Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Sikh at the footie. Most importantly friends together…”

As the match ended we took the long walk to Wembley Park. People were singing, embracing: french fans, england fans, football fans, humanity fans. We seemed to be walking with a common spirit. We had been part of something bigger than sport.
We stopped to queue before the tube station. My pocket was buzzing. Who was calling… I looked at it… Several hundred retweets… Our photo seemed to have captured something… It seemed just for a moment that our photo had captured a shared moment of hope… And the twitter sphere was responding accordingly…
As I walked on I thought to myself this is what Heschel meant when he said “Praying with his legs”…

Original BBC Broadcast below:

Link to broadcast via Audioboom

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