Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in Warsaw in 1907 to Rabbi Moshe Mordecai Heschel, known as the "Pelzovina Rebbe," and Rivka Reizel Perlow, the daughter of the "Noviminsker Rebbe." Apparently, his lineage can be traced directly to Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism in the early 1700s.
His father died when he eight years old, so his maternal uncle, the Noviminsker Rebbe, personally educated Abraham. Perhaps due to his mother's insistence that he not marry early, Abraham avoided becoming a Rebbe and instead left Vilna and prepared to enter the University of Berlin. He began his studies in 1927 and obtained a doctorate in philosophy. He was then deported to Poland in 1938, so he taught at the Warsaw Institute of Jewish Studies. From Poland, he emigrated to London, and from there moved to the United States, where he taught rabbinics and philosophy at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He openly supported the Civil Rights movement and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. at a protest march in Selma, Alabama:
"For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was both protest and prayer. Legs are not lips, and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."
He also strongly opposed the war in Vietnam, on the basis that the war was harming the people of Vietnam, as opposed to merely fearing for the lives of U.S. soldiers. He helped organize and serve as co-chairman of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam. He is quoted as saying
"To speak about God, and remain silent on Vietnam, is blasphemous."
He was the professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City from 1945 until his death in 1972, and he wrote several books:
and the documentary film of his life is entitled "Abraham Joshua Heschel Remembered"