A Jewish Santa Claus

Monday, December 24, 2007 - 9:04 am

A Jewish Santa Claus

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, bearded at center, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1968 antiwar protest.
This wonderful anecdote about the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel brings deeper meaning to the holiday season and cultural relations:

“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, Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972 by Edward K. Kaplan (Yale), 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.

What a fabulous story; I can’t wait until we do our program on this great man.

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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