Peacemaking in Four Worlds

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

What actions can North American Jews take to bring nearer peace between Israel and the emerging Palestine, between the two families of Abraham arising from Sarah and Hagar?

Birthing peace, shalom, out of the intense conflict we have been witnessing is an act of creativity, perhaps even an act of creation.

So if we are seeking a "reality map" of the creative task, we might draw on the way Jewish mystics have described the "Four Worlds" that emerged as God's birth-contractions encouraged the created universe to be born.

For the mystics, God's creative process proceeded, and continues proceeding, through four modes, each at all times:

... Atzilut/Spirit: the sheer will to create a world;

... Briyyah/Creative Knowing: the imaginative vision of the elements of such a world;

... Yetzirah/Shaping: the relational blueprint of how these elements would link with each other;

... Asiyah/Doing: Bodying forth the actual universe. Ways to take action.

So we will use this four-fold pattern as a map for our own peacemaking. We will save Briyyah for last; because the more we continue learning, the more fruitful and wise will be our actions in the other worlds.

Atzilut/Spirit: Prayer and Torah Study

When we translate the upwelling of God's creative will into our own lives, we may hear our own prayers, intended to aim us in the right direction.

1. See "Sharing Our Grief",, for ways to:

... Bring Jewish and Arab groups together for public ceremonies of grief and mourning — or, where this is not possible, do so in Jewish group

... Add to the Yom Kippur Torah reading — or add for Torah study and discussion — the Torah's passage about Abraham's death, in which his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, come together to mourn his death

... Recite the names of all those who have died in the current conflict

... Have a congregational discussion, in a Torah-study atmosphere, about how the respective stories of Abraham and Ishmael, Abraham and Isaac, and the death of Abraham bear on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

... Recite the prayer for peace in the Mourner's Kaddish for all the dead, including not only "v'al kol Yisrael — and over the whole (people of) Israel," but also "v'al kol Yishmael — and over the whole (people of) Ishmael", so that we are praying for peace and harmony for the Jewish people and for the Palestinian people.

2. Introduce peace songs such as "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu" into prayer services. A version of "Eyn Kelohenu" in Hebrew, Arabic, & English could be added to the service: to the tune of Hatikvah, sing "Eyn kelohenu, eyn kadonenu, eyn k'malkenu, eyn k'moshienu; La Illah-ha illah Allah hu (2x); Sisters & brothers, our God is One (2x)."

Continue with all the Hebrew verses, as above. (The Arabic, like the rest of the words, means, "There is no God but God.")

3. Use "Seder of the Children of Abraham, Hagar, & Sarah" for one of the nights of Passover. (See the Passover section of the Shalom Center Website: Pesach).

4. In the spirit of the nightly prayer, "Ufros alenu sukkat sh'lomekha/spread over us your Sukkah of Shalom [peace]," celebrate Sukkot by carrying a portable sukkah to Israeli, Palestinian, US, & other offices, chanting, prayers and reading specific proposals for peacemaking.

Yetzirah: Relationships and Emotion

When we translate into our own lives God's shaping of the patterns of creation, we may hear the process of connecting with others, encoding the patterns into ethics and emotion.

Out of American initiatives in "citizen diplomacy," an organization called Mideast Diplomacy has sponsored a number of "Compassionate Listening" trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories. American Jews have had an important role among the participants in these journeys.

Typically, the "Listeners" meet with a very broad spectrum of politically active Israelis and Palestinians, including ultra-militant nationalists, peace-oriented people, and officials of both societies. They listen to the life-histories that have led these deeply diverse people into their present paths (

In America, a very loose network of "Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Groups" has emerged, founded by Libby and Len Traubman of San Mateo, CA, who got the first dialogue group together by knocking on the doors of Palestinian and Jewish residents and business owners.

Typically, the groups talk through the present conflict and its history, intending simply to hear and understand each other's narratives, rather than come to an agreement. Occasionally some action may arise and be agreed on. Website:

One major experiment in carrying on a potentially explosive public discussion as an enlightening dialogue, at the 2001 Kallah of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, could serve as a model. Between each speaker, there were interpretive dances about the history/ geography/ symbolism of Israel and chants focused on the holiness of land and of peace. The speakers were followed by a fifteen-minute discussion in small groups, and only then by questions handed in as written notes.

This introduction of space for moving, breathing, chanting, conversing calmed what might otherwise have been an impossibly tense discussion into a livably intense one.

Asiyah: Action and Physicality

When we translate God's actual doing into our own lives, we may hear the earthy process of actually bringing our bodies, our intellects, our emotions, our souls, in one unity for the sake of peace.

In the US, the Shalom Center Website ( includes a number of articles, reports, action proposals, and other information bearing on Middle East peace activism. To receive periodic mailings, subscribe here.

The loose Jewish network called "Break the Silence" has published several successful ads in major American papers to support peacemaking. Break the Silence, together with Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, initiated the Olive Trees for Peace Campaign.

This campaign placed an ad in the New York Times and has carried on a continuing e-mail campaign to raise money to help RHR meet the needs of families in Palestinian villages, where olive trees had been uprooted by the Israeli soldiers or settlers, cutting off crucial income for many families.

The ad and the contributions also help spread the word of the need to end the occupation. More than $100,000 has been raised. Tax deductble contributions can be sent to: Olive Trees for Peace/The Shefa Fund/8459 Ridge Ave, 2nd floor/Philadelphia, PA 19128.

Americans for Peace Now (see above) often invites members and others to lobby members of Congress on specific policy issues that could encourage or damage hopes for peace. Their online legislative update can be received by writing to

The Reform movement (UAHC) has initiated a project called "Seeking Peace" that provides program ideas for congregations (as well many other kinds of information) at

Since a conference in May 2001 called "Jewish Unity for a Just Peace" or "Junity," a loose network of American Jewish peace activists has been exchanging ideas, analyses, action proposals, and other material. Some of its members are strongly committed to Israel being a Jewish state alongside a new state of Palestine; some hope to see the creation of a single state from the Jordan to the Sea. On other issues as well, its members are very diverse (

The listserve that corresponds most closely to Junity is sponsored by the group "Not in My Name." To join, send an e-mail to The individuals and groups that take part in this list often plan vigils and rallies to raise public awareness of the issues. The list has become an important place to share ideas about such actions.

Here are four of the many local groups that have each a quite different place on the broad spectrum of political outlooks within the community of peace activists:

... Jewish Peace Forum (Chicago):

... Jewish Voice for Peace (San Francisco Bay Area):

... Not in My Name (Chicago):

... Am Kolel (Washington DC area):

Interreligious Action: The US Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East brings together mainstream Christians, Jews, and Muslims for joint work. During the year 5761, the perceptions and desires of the three communities have sharply diverged, and joint action has been most difficult ( But the effort to bridge the gaps continues.

Transnational Jewish Action: During the summer of 2001, groups of American Jews, along with Israeli and other Jews, took part in protest actions in Israel and in Palestine, and in work projects to help Palestinian villagers harvest crops. This effort is continuing (

Briyyah/Knowing: Learning & Information

When we translate God's creative intellect into our own lives, we may hear the process of informing ourselves, learning a language of analysis.

How? Many American Jews have little information other than the reports from official or semi-official Israeli sources that are carried in much of the Jewish press, and reports in the US mass media. The latter have much better access to Israeli cities and homes than they do to Palestinian homes and cities, and so rarely report Palestinian life from the ground up.

One important aspect of peacemaking is simply to learn together about what is happening, from a diversity of sources and perspectives.

Using the Internet, individuals can today find out a great deal about the changing situation, and often cut through official obfuscation.

But this study need not be done alone:

... Students on a college campus could organize a "teach-in" at which scholars, diplomats, political activists, and other knowledgeable people could speak.

... Synagogues could invite teams of Israelis and Palestinians to speak in public forums.

... Jewish study groups could gather on a weekly basis to study articles that draw on these resources.

Constant information on Israeli-Palestinian relations, including intermittently good coverage of the Palestinian viewpoint (often by Amira Hass) and a wide range of op/ed pieces by Israelis of critical views, is available in English from the on-line version of the most highly respected Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, at

Who? There is a considerable spectrum of peace-oriented Jewish opinion in Israel and in the US and other world Jewish communities.

The largest peace group in Israel — and when it is united, active and committed, probably the most effective in changing public opinion — is Shalom Achshav/Peace Now movement.

It has an American support group, Americans for Peace Now ( which is the one peace-oriented American Jewish lobbying and public opinion group with a track record for effective politicking (although APN is sometimes slow to act because it needs basic approval from the Israeli organization, and it does not focus on grass-roots organizing).

In late July 2001, Shalom Achshav brought together a Joint Declaration on the conditions of peace by a number of major Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

APN sends out frequent and generally excellent reports of Middle East governmental efforts for or against peace and of Shalom Achshav's work (though it does not cover the work of more activist peace groups in Israel). Subscribe to this Middle East Peace Report by writing to

APN's Recent Recommended Reading

... Herbert C. Kelman's "How to Renew Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process" (August 6, 2001 Boston Globe)

... Yossi Beilin and Yasir Abed Rabbo's "A Mideast Partnership Can Still Work" (August 1, 2001, The New York Times)

... Rob Malley and Hussein Agha's "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors" (August 9, 2001 New York Review of Books)

... Deborah Sontag's "Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed" (July 26, 2001 The New York Times)

In the U.S., Tikkun ( magazine is the only print medium in the Jewish world that consistently carries a wide variety of articles by Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, and others on the Middle East conflict from political, spiritual, and many other perspectives. To subscribe, call (415) 575-1200. (Many articles also appear on the magazines's web site.)

The Shalom Center publishes by e-mail a variety of articles on various aspects of Jewish renewal prayer, Torah study, and tikkun olam, including essays on social justice, eco-protection, theology, the problem of overwork, and peace in the Middle East. To subscribe, click here .

An on-line news service called Jewish Peace News carries numerous articles from the world press. Subscribe by Emailing with the one-word subject line and message "Subscribe."

The work and ideas of Ami Isseroff and some other peace-oriented Israelis appear at

What is often called "the critical peace movement" in Israel is much readier to criticize the basics of Israeli policy and to work in concert with Palestinians to use nonviolent resistance against the Occupation. Among these are:

Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which initiated the nonviolent efforts to rebuild houses demolished by Israeli Army action, since taken up by a number of human rights and peace groups.

Gush Shalom, headed by Uri Avneri, veteran peace activist, who over the years has had perhaps the clearest understanding of how Palestinians would react to various Israeli actions.

Among Gush Shalom's useful documents are maps of what the West Bank (and Gaza would have looked like under the so-called "generous" Barak offers at Camp David (

Among the "critical peace groups," the Israeli women's group Bat Shalom works closely with Palestinian women, and can be reached at

The Other Israel is a newsletter (in print & on-line) that covers a wide variety of peace activist news in israel and Palestine (

Yesh Gvul means both "There is a border" and "There is a limit!" It is made up of Israeli soldiers or reservists who are willing to serve in the army to defend Israel itself within its Green Line boundaries, but not to serve in the occupation of another people (

There are also human rights groups that do not take political positions on such questions as Israeli-Palestinian boundaries.

B'Tselem ("In the Image," a reference to the biblical phrase "in the image of God humanity was created"), focuses on human rights violations suffered by Palestinians, whether at the hands of the Israeli government or at the hands of the Palestinian Authority.

B'tselem is respected for accurate, detailed, and well-documented reports (

Rabbis for Human Rights is the only Israeli rabbinic association to which Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and renewal-oriented rabbis and rabbinical students all belong.

RHR works for the human rights of Palestinians, Israelis, and foreign workers (many of whom are denied elementary rights in Israeli society). RHR's work has included efforts to make sure all Israelis have adequate access to health care (which it defines as a human right) and efforts to end extreme exploitation of Eastern European "guest workers," especially women forced into prostitution.

RHR's executive director, Rabbi Arik Asherman, has been arrested several times and beaten by police once, for taking part in nonviolent protests against roadblocks, house demolitions, and invasions of Palestinian villages by Israeli settlers (

In a different category altogether, the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) is a fully binational institute which does research and planning toward the day when Israel and Palestine live freely and peacefully side by side (

Similar is the Palestine-Israel Journal, a quarterly with a binational staff, which publishes serious intellectual and scholarly articles on the issues confronting both peoples (

Finally, the Webzine has an important section on Middle East issues and publishes diverse articles from a pro-peace perspective. You can receive regular updates about new articles by signing up at

You can subscribe to a weekly "thought-letter" on new Jewish progressive/ renewal/ feminist approaches to prayer, celebration, Torah, & healing of the world, by clicking here