In From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace (Orbis, April), Rabbi Amy Eilberg offers a practical guide to fulfillment of the Jewish religious commandment to “pursue peace” at all levels of life.
What was your most important goal in writing your book?
My highest goal is to persuade people to think deeply about the commandment to seek and pursue peace, apply it to their own lives, and act boldly to serve the cause of peace, each in our own way.
How does peacebuilding differ from peacemaking?
Peacemaking refers to what diplomats do in fashioning and negotiating peace treaties, whereas peace building is the work of civil society leaders in preparing the ground for peace by creating relationship, a sense of a shared future. Peacebuilding is required before, during, and long after the negotiation of treaties. But I use the term “peacebuilding" even more broadly, to apply to the work we all can do in our own lives, serving the cause of peace at home, at work, in community organizations, in the larger society.
How does the Jewish imperative to pursue peace relate to peacebuilding?
Peacebuilding is the work of being faithful to the call of the Psalmist to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:15). From the Bible onward, the pursuit of peace is not just the work of diplomats, civil servants, academics, or experts. It is for each of us to serve the cause of peace in the world, in the midst of our own lives …. and in our engagement with the larger world.
What in your own life led to your interest in peace?
Like everyone, I experienced conflict in my own family growing up, though not more than most. My experiences in marriage and divorce were formative in my own early understandings of conflict. But what launched me into the investigation that became this book was my anguish about events in the world: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, conflict within the Jewish community, and interreligious conflict. These experiences set me on fire: I wanted to understand more about the dynamics of peace and conflict, and find a way to serve the cause of peace.
What personal benefits do you see coming from the spiritual principles—middot--of the pursuit of peace?
The ancients knew, and modern neuroscience confirms, that human beings are wired for pro-social traits like kindness, compassion, and empathy--but also for greed, envy, and competitiveness. In a life filled with stress and pain, the repetition of our negative responses can make them stronger, but the same holds for our higher traits. If we work to implant values like kindness, compassion, respect, curiosity, and humility into our minds and hearts and embody them through regular practice, we are more likely to have these traits at hand when relationships, individually or collectively, get difficult.