1. Choosing A Peaceful Path In a Time Of Violence

    July 3, 2014 by Shelly

    In Pirke Avot, we learn that one mitzvah leads,even causes another mitzvah to be done. Likewise, one transgression leads to another. It seem that, in human affairs, we do tend to imitate each other. When there is an atmosphere around us of anger and violence, we often have the impulse to follow suit. Our anger is kindled, and we are capable of committing violence as well. On the other hand, when a hand is extended to another in compassion and friendship, often there will be reciprocal gestures. What seems especially hard and even unnatural is to break this powerful cycle, to change the direction by responding to violence with restraint and even a token of respect and hope.

    In Israel and the West Bank at this moment, we stand now at such a precipice. Cruel violence has been committed. We ask ourselves so searchingly how best to respond. Of course justice must be pursued so that those who murdered innocent young people are severely judged. Yet, beyond justice, there are choices. The tradition is so clear. “Do not seek vengeance”. Instead, “Seek peace and pursue it.” We are now at a time of momentous decision making. May we learn restraint and pursue peacemaking with even more determination.

  2. [Video] Rabbi Lewis speaking at the American Center in Jerusalem

    April 2, 2014 by admin

  3. Making a Difference

    March 10, 2014 by Shelly

    hope-israelIsrael is beset by complex, painful, seemingly inscrutable issues. Yet, perhaps because it is a young, tiny land, it is brimming with people who live their lives knowing they can make a difference. In our circle of friends, we know inspiring people who have found or created a niche to which they passionately devote themselves with the conviction that what they do really matters.

    The areas are diverse, improving the environment, caring for the huge population of birds who migrate through this land, reaching out to new emigres, mapping fault-lines in the region so that all of the inhabitants will be more prepared in an emergency, and, especially reaching out across the lines of conflict between Arabs and Jews to create grassroots relationships in preparation for a time of peace.

    Of course this idea that each of us really counts is basic in Jewish thought. The Mishnah in Sanhedrin testifies that each person is equivalent to an entire world. A very eloquent statement is contributed by Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Tamaret:


    “When the Holy one, blessed be He, stated at the time of Creation,
    ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,’ He thereby
    placed in man’s hands the power to create worlds as He had done.
    And if it be true, as our sages affirm, that man affects even the
    higher spheres, then how much more must he affect this very earth
    itself. Certainly his own situation is shaped by his own hand. The
    effect of society upon him is but the harvest of those deeds previously
    sown by him in this world. Good actions set good waves
    moving in the air, and a man performing good acts soon purifies
    the air which surrounds him. Evil actions poison the atmosphere,
    and a man’s evil acts pollute the air until finally he himself breathes
    the poisonous vapors, and such actions flow from all the actions of
    a man, whether physical or mental. Were the eye able to perceive
    it, we should see that when a man raises his fist against another
    man, the air surrounding him is filled with waving fists; that when
    a man raises a foot to kick another man, the air registers feet raised
    high and aimed at him; that when a man casts a designing eye upon
    another man, the atmosphere reveals designing eyes aimed at him;
    and that when a man stands inert as clay while another’s blood
    is shed, the air surrounding him is filled with congealed lumps
    awaiting the hour when his own blood will be shed.
    (Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret, Musar Hatorah v’Hayahadut (Vilna: Garber,
    1912), translated in Allan Solomonow, Roots of Jewish Nonviolence (Nyack, NY:
    Jewish Peace Fellowship, 1981), p. 58.)

    The dream of creating a better world is rooted in our confidence that we can work to make it happen. Rabbi Nachman of Breslav famously taught: “Know that if you can cause ruin, you can also repair and perfect.”

  4. Building the Infrastructure For Peace

    March 9, 2014 by Shelly

    elana.rozenmanI was privileged to be present on Friday in Jerusalem at a moving program about women’s roles in bringing change. My friend from kindergarten(!!), Elana Rozenman, founder of Trust-Emun, a network of Israeli Jewish and Arab women, sponsored the program which screened a documentary film about the decades old turmoil on Cyprus between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Their ongoing struggle, involving war, ethnic hatred, and uprooting of populations has resulted in a divided island with physical barriers separating ethnic groups. People fled or were forced from their homes.

    The film, directed by a Greek parliamentarian, resonated thoroughly with population movements in the Arab-Israel conflict. With attempts to reunify the island in recent years, women have knocked on doors of their former homes and developed relationships with the present residents. A panel of Jewish and Arab women whose life experiences and present involvement truly parallel Cypriot experiences spoke passionately about steps forward.

    In my time in Israel, in an atmosphere of unresolved conflict, I’ve been very impressed with the ever greater number of attempts to reach out on an interpersonal level across the barriers with ambitious NGO’s like Trust-Emun leading the way. The number and variety of organizations and projects is dizzying! When a political settlement is finally signed, it’s success will need to rest on a sturdy and vast infrastructure of grassroots relationships where newborn trust and friendship can be built.

    I’ve been very impressed with the ever greater number of attempts to reach out on an interpersonal level across the barriers with ambitious NGO’s like Trust-Emun leading the way.

    It’s clear to me that these visionary groups are not waiting until a document is signed! They are committed now, and they express a reservoir of hope. I’ve spent much of my time with Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue groups, with the Interreligious Coordinating Committee in Israel, and with Rabbis For Human Rights. I’ve loved being with heroic people who do not give up!  May their work be blessed!

  5. Is Peacemaking a Jewish Thing?

    March 6, 2014 by admin

    In his essay in the Times of Israel, Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish asks the question, “Is peacemaking a Jewish thing?” and answers it by citing examples from the Torah of Reconciliation that support the claim.

    Rabbi Lewis goes on to prove his thesis in chapter after chapter in the book, in which he brings amazing and creative interpretations – often for the first time in English — to enlighten each Torah portion of the week, throughout the year.

    To read the full essay, click here »

  6. An Encounter in Israel.

    February 27, 2014 by Shelly

    Yesterday I was privileged to meet with an extraordinary group of Jewish and Muslim students at Tel Chai Academic College (המכללה האקדמית תל-חי) in Kiryat Shmonah, located at Israel’s northernmost border with Lebanon. They meet regularly as a Jewish-Arab dialogue group. The group is staffed by Dr. Yousef Jabareen, a scholar and human rights activist who specializes in building bridges between Arabs and Jews and lobbying for justice for minorities.

    tel-hai-logoI spoke to the group about my almost fifty years of experience in interfaith dialogue in the United States, about how much I have learned from Jewish tradition about respecting religious diversity, and about how potent interfaith cooperation can be in speaking up for issues of human rights, justice, and peace.

    I shared with them how much I have learned from members and leaders of other faiths, how precious to me are the friendships that have flowed from interfaith contact, and how much can be accomplished when faith groups join together in common action based on shared values.

    The reaction of students and their advisors was stunning to me. They were emotional. They seemed so eager to hear messages of moderation and acceptance based on religious values. Too often the teachings of religious leaders have been polarizing. Their questions were penetrating and compassionate. Is it really possible to find religious messages that are fully embracing of the other? Can people in dialogue really act with civility and compassion with one another even when they continue to disagree? Can religion and politics be separated from one another, especially in the Middle East?

    “They seemed so eager to hear messages of moderation and acceptance based on religious values.”

    Tel Chai Academic College is off the beaten track. It has about 3,500 students. It attracts Jewish and Arab (both Christian and Muslim) students from all over Israel. It is truly a place where students can learn to know each other and to explore each other’s culture and faith.

    After departing, I felt that this is a place where the infrastructure of peacemaking is happening apace. Peace accords between governing bodies are crucial, but here in this distant place, the hard work of building interpersonal trust and friendship is underway!

    tel-haiMy visit to Tel Chai Academic College was arranged by the US Embassy. I am very grateful to their staff who feel that religious lenses for reconciliation should be explored.

  7. On the Pathway to Reconciliation: Redeeming Troubling Sacred Texts

    February 3, 2014 by admin

    On November 5, 2013, Rabbi Lewis spoke at Oregon State University about redeeming troubling sacred text. In his talk, he showed how through the centuries many of these passages have been moderated up and transformed through determined reinterpretation by eminent Jewish sages.

  8. Israel Book Tour – Feb/March 2014

    January 29, 2014 by admin

    Israel Book Tour

    Rabbi Lewis is pleased to announce the following dates and locations of a book tour in Israel.

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    • 8 PM Fuchsberg Center
    • Jerusalem (In English)

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    • 11 AM – 12:30 PM Tiferet Shalom Study Group
    • Ramat Aviv

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    • 5 PM Cimbalista Jewish Study Center
    • Tel Aviv University

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    • 12:30- 2 PM Meeting with faculty
    • Bar Ilan University

    Shabbat, February 14-15, 2014

    • Shabbat with Congregation Tiferet Shalom
    • Ramat Aviv

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    • 12-1:15 PM Schechter Institute
    • Jerusalem (In Hebrew)

    Friday, February 21, 2014

    • Noon – 2:30 PM
    • International Mary of Nazareth Center
    • Nazareth (In English)

    Wednesday, February 26, 2014

    • 12:30-2 PM Tel Chai Academic College- Room 2204, Campus East, Canada Building
    • Kiryat Shmonah(In Hebrew)

    Wednesday, March 5, 2014

    • 5- 6:30 PM American Center, Keren Hayesod
    • Jerusalem, Library

    Wednesday & Thursday, March 5-6, 2014

    • Two programs with Ron Kronish ICCI and American Cultural Center
    • Details TBD

  9. Chosenness Reconsidered – Lecture at Temple Sholom – Greenwich, Connecticut – Feb 2013

    January 20, 2014 by admin

    Rabbi Lewis was scholar-in-residence at Temple Sholom in Greenwich, Connecticut. Shalom TV, recorded the conversation with members of the synagogue and members of Greenwich Christ Church—the two communities form the Sholom Center for Interfaith Learning and Fellowship. It was co-founded in 2010 by Rabbi Mitch Hurvitz and Reverend Jim Lemler as part of the ongoing interfaith relationship between the two organizations.

    In the lecture, Rabbi Lewis reviews the teaching and literature of the Hebrew Scriptures and the great sages of the Jewish tradition as they together have focused on the call to reconciliation as the very essence and nature of the walk of faith.

  10. Review on HuffingtonPost – Jewish Teachings on Reconciliation and Peace

    January 12, 2014 by admin

    Ron-Head-Shot-StaffThank you to Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish for his review on Huffington Post. As the founder and director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, he has spent the past 22 years in peace-building through interreligious dialogue and education in Israel.

    Here’s what he had to say about the book:

    Rabbi Lewis’ introduction on Peacemaking in Jewish Tradition is the best article that I have ever read on the subject. It is thorough, well-documented and convincing. I would say that it is a “must read” for anyone who wants to know how deeply the search for peace and reconciliation is central in Judaism.

    To read the full review, click here.