“From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace”
by Rabbi Amy Eilberg. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2014). 278 pp., $25.
The title of this fascinating book, “From Enemy to Friend,” is taken from a rabbinic reflection on Chapter 16, Verse 32, of the Book of Proverbs, answering “who is the greatest of heroes?” as “one who makes an enemy into a friend” (“Avot d’Rabbi Natan,” 23).
Rabbi Amy Eilberg interweaves personal experience, scriptural and rabbinic wisdom, and stories of numerous groups in the United States, Europe and Israel working on reconciliation between religious groups. She wrote the book at the Jay Philips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Catholics will gain new insights into the Hebrew Scriptures, how they have been interpreted and reinterpreted over the centuries, and can be understood today. Rabbi Eilberg combines the skills of a rabbi, scholar, psychologist and long practitioner of conflict resolution, working with families and communities. Her basic understanding of dialogue is presented through the works of Martin Buber, the great 20th century philosopher who himself escaped from Nazi Europe before the Holocaust.
She understands dialogue as a sacred engagement where God is to be found between and within those engaged. We are all tempted to conflict, to stereotyping the other rather than understanding her or him in their essential otherness. Listening, being open to the other, is sacred, as are the bonds between us created by hearing the voice of God within all of us as humans created in the divine image.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” cited by Jesus in Chapter 19, Verse 18, of the Book of Leviticus as central to the commandments, Rabbi Eilberg notes, is also a central theme in Judaism. The biblical holiness code, of which it is the apex includes also love of the stranger and of all in need.
A major section is devoted to peace among religions, bringing together her personal experiences with those of many groups around the world.
She develops through concrete examples (including her own mistakes and difficulties) practical models of interreligious spirituality through true dialogue. She concludes with a reflection on Jonah, “the reluctant prophet,” who presented God’s word to the gentile city of Nineveh and was nonplussed when they repented and avoided God’s wrath. Jews read this book on Yom Kippur, the annual day of atonement, in which gentile repentance becomes a model for Jewish repentance and reconciliation with others.
Her section on peace among Jews could easily have been written about Catholics, given the similar divides within our community these days.
Her section on peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians, which highlights the courageous work of Israeli Jews, Christian and Muslim Palestinians, and the institutions and even shared villages they have created together, will encourage and offer guidance to those many Catholics for whom the peace of the Holy Land, symbolized by peace in the city of peace (which is what the word Jerusalem means in Hebrew), is a major interest and hope.
Finally, drawing all of these personal, communal, national and international experiences and reflections together, she lists and defines a spiritual guide for those wishing to grow in the ways of peace.
Fisher is a professor of theology at St. Leo University in Florida.