Yossi Klein Halevi, born in America and now an Israeli citizen, embarked on a spiritual quest in order to appreciate the religious dimensions of conflicts in the Middle East. Beginning in 1998, he undertook "an attempt at religious empathy" in order "to test whether faith could be a means of healing rather than intensifying the conflicts in this land." Halevi, author of the critically acclaimed Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist
, chose "to pray and meditate with my Christian and Muslim fellow believers," as "a conscious refutation of the way we religious people of different faiths have always judged each other--by what we believe about God, rather than how we experience God's presence." The holy days of each religion form the structure of At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden
, and Halevi's encounters with Sufi dervishes, Muslim sheiks, monks, nuns, and laypeople are entertaining, poignant, and sometimes fearsome. The stories do not separate "spirituality" from "politics"--or history, psychology, or theology. His commitment to describing an integrated experience of the many aspects of religious life helps to make the book a successful exercise in empathy, and a book of lasting literary value. --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
The political landscape of the Middle East has inspired many books, but few have focused on the intersection of its religious paths as healing territory. This is where Jerusalemite Halevi, a transplanted American Jewish journalist, breaks ground. To become more at home in Israel, a land that 800,000 Muslims and 200,000 Christians call home, and to seek out an alternative to the Oslo peace process, Halevi visited monasteries and mosques, Sufi sheiks, humble monks and silent nuns. In the two years of his interfaith spiritual journey, he confronted history, theology, politics, psychological taboos and concerns over personal safety, learning much concerning the two faiths he previously knew little about. His search for holiness brings him to "conflicting versions of truth," but he attempts nonetheless to experience unity through prayer and meditation: he surrenders to a whirling Sufi zikr, debates with Armenian priests, spends Holy Week with the Ethiopian Orthodox and explores the depths of silence with cloistered nuns. To visit a sheik in Gaza, he ventures to the same spot he had patrolled and where he was wounded as a soldier. Despite his successes, relating to Christianity and Islam "as spiritual paths rather than as devouring forces that had tried to displace the Jews proved even more difficult than I'd imagined." Halevi's forthright prose, which evokes the immediacy of his encounters, does not try to gloss over his religious and political resentments, yet exudes a yearning for commonality and love. Since he sought out the "best representatives" of each religion, isolated examples who do not speak for the majority of their co-religionists, Halevi's effort remains an experiment in "testing the border crossing between faiths." Despite the current outbreak of violence, he concludes, religion must be an integral part of the process if peace is to come to the Middle East. Readers of all religions will appreciate the honesty of this spiritual walkabout.
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