THE BLOG
06/05/2014 08:45 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

From Enemy to Friend, Book Review

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of reading a wonderful new book entitled From Enemy to Friend, probably the first of its kind to appear in many years, about Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace, which is actually the subtitle of the book. Interestingly , the book is published by a Catholic press, Orbis Books, April 2014, and not a Jewish publisher. Perhaps this is just another indication of Jewish-Catholic cooperation in contemporary era.

The author, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, is the first Conservative woman rabbi, and a peace-builder, who currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. A former hospital chaplain and spiritual trainer, Rabbi Eilberg has been deeply involved in peace-building work in her home town, and in other places, for the past several years, so much so threliat it has now become the major preoccupation of her life. For Rabbi Eilberg, this is not a job; it has become a way of life in the fullest sense of the term.

Rabbi Eilberg defines the process of moving from enemy to friend as "the movement from the heart and mind closed in fear and wounding to a state of openness and curiosity about another human being." She sees this as the same process as making peace. For her, "the sometimes imperceptible shift from a stance of antagonism to acceptance and then to compassion is work of making peace -- be it in interpersonal conflict, in relationship to those different from us religiously, politically, or ethnically, and even in intergroup conflicts on the world stage."

The goal of her book, which she has accomplished comprehensively and in a commanding fashion, is to explore the inner work of peace-building, which she links creatively to both Jewish and Koranic texts, in such a careful way that it becomes clear that "the greatest heroism is to transform an enemy to a friend, to move from hatred to caring, from suspicion and fear, beyond tolerance, to embrace of the other."

I found it of particular importance that Rabbi Eilberg prefers to use the term "peace-building" over "peacemaking", as I do in explaining my work in this field via the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (which also serves as the Israel chapter of Religions for Peace). She explains in her book that this term is becoming the norm in the field of conflict studies to describe the work of ordinary people in addressing conflict in their lives and in the world.

One of the innovative ideas discussed throughout this unique book is the notion that the processes of peace-building in situations of individual interpersonal conflict are the same ones that can and should be used in international conflict resolution efforts. In so doing, Eilberg brings to bear several intertwined disciplines to make this work: Jewish texts, carefully chosen from the Rabbinic Tradition, psychology, contemporary spirituality, healing, chaplaincy, as well as peace and conflict studies. This is quite a feat, and she does it with great skill, enormous erudition, and compassionate care.

As someone who has studied and reflected upon many of the same themes in my academic and professional life, I found the integration of these diverse fields to be enlightening. Similarly, my own work in peace-building in Israel and Palestine has drawn much wisdom from psychology as well as Judaism, from comparative religion as well as comparative conflicts.

For me, the chapter in the book that pulls it all together so masterfully is the final chapter entitled " The Ways of Peace." Here, Eilberg states her main thesis of her book clearly and succinctly.

Peace-building, as I understand it, is not the exclusive purview of diplomats, elected officials, or conflict specialists. It is not only for people who live in international conflict zones of violent neighborhoods or work in mediation centers. It is for all people who take seriously the biblical call to 'seek peace and pursue it'. It is a way of being in the world, a way of bringing peace, of being peace (following Thich Nhat Hanh) in everyday encounters, in personal and professional relationships, in the communities of which we are a part, and in our life as a nation.

In this final chapter, Eilberg makes one more leap of faith, by enumerating --based on famous and fascinating Jewish texts--the essential moral traits of the peace-builder, which she says are not only rooted in the Jewish Tradition, especially in the Musar Movement of the 19th century, but in the texts of all major world religions: kindness, compassion, generosity, self-awareness, humility, curiosity, and strength. Each of these virtues is accompanied by some suggestions for spiritual practice--which Eilberg teaches in workshops, courses, conferences and seminars in many places in the world-- which are practical and important for everyday living.

In my own work, I have found that peace-building is very much a state of mind and an attitude. By persisting in this, it has helped me to remain an optimist, against all odds, since I have seen so many people become personally transformed by these processes.

This is a deeply religious and spiritual book, well grounded in both theory and practice, and deeply rooted in Judaism as well as other contemporary religious thinkers, such as Rev. Martin Luther King, Gandhi and others. It is must reading for rabbis, priests, imams, peace and conflict resolution specialists, and anyone else who wants to learn about what Judaism has to say not only about the concept of peace but about how to actually practice it in our personal and professional lives.