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Jun. 23 2009 - 11:58 pm | 12 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

On the Road, with Nazis

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (2nd from right) ...

March on Selma, Alabama with Heschel 2nd from the right of Martin Luther King

Steve Brand, a New York filmmaker,  sent out a link yesterday to this piece in The New York Times:

When a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement volunteered last year to clean a Missouri highway, and get official recognition for it in the form of an Adopt-a-Highway sign, state officials felt powerless to refuse. So they took a rather clever tack.

The state wants to rename the stretch of road adopted by the neo-Nazi group after the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

It only adds to the odd allure that the piece of highway is near Springfield, Missouri, “the birthplace of Route 66.”  Don’t be looking over your shoulder, ghost of  George Maharis!  Nazis and rabbis in the fast lane!

Several years before, the Missouri Department of Transportation had lost a long legal battle to try and prevent the Ku Klux Klan from adopting a highway on freedom-of-speech grounds. So the state decided to counter the Nazi group’s speech with more speech, in the form of another roadside sign.  Officials are renaming the stretch of highway near Springfield that the organization cleans after Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who fled Nazi Germany and became a prominent Jewish theologian and civil rights advocate in the United States.

One Neo-Nazi quoted in the piece calls the action of the Missouri Department of Transportation “childish.”  This from a person with a home-made sheet costume and pals who call themselves Wizards.

Heschel is perhaps best known as the man second from the right of Martin Luther King in famous photos of the march through Selma, Alabama at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  On that occasion, he was quoted telling reporters he was “praying with his feet.”

“It’s nice to see that Rabbi Heschel’s lifelong struggle against all forms of bigotry and discrimination continues on the roads of Missouri,” Brand told me.   “I’ve often been surprised that there has yet to be a street in NYC — where he spent nearly half his life — named for him.”

Nazi Alert:  Can you please adopt Broadway or Central Park West so we can get the Department of Transportation to name it for Heschel?  I mean, if you’re not too busy.

Brand’s feature-length documentary, “Praying with My Legs,” a meticulously researched film shot over several years and ingathering many of the best hearts and minds of the Civil Rights movement and theology, will focus on Heschel’s life, religious and political thought, and transformative impact on those who encountered him personally and through his writing.     No date yet for its release.

via In Missouri, a Free Speech Fight Over a Highway Adoption – NYTimes.com.


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  1. collapse expand

    Nice story, thanks for bringing it to our attention Vickie.

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    I've written short pieces for The New Yorker about the first Arab prince in outer space, a Ph.D who travels the world studying garbage, an Australian attorney who played werewolves in the movies, and the man who set the “Pledge of Allegiance” to music. I've written pieces for The New York Times about olfactory sculpture dropped from a plane on thousands of tiny cards on New Year's Eve, and inscriptions on old buildings that have become ironic over time. At ABC, Bravo, A&E, and PBS, I wrote live interviews with celebrities and docs about Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and lesser known poets. It's culture and arts. It's people in the news. It's the ongoing comedy of who we are. I hope you enjoy it here at True/Slant and write in to tell me what you think. Also hope to hear your ideas and stories at "Third Screen" on www.huffingtonpost and www.thirdscreenconfidential.com

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