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At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land Hardcover – September 4, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (September 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688169082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688169084
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,674,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Yossi Klein Halevi is an author, thinker and commentator on Jewish and Israeli affairs. His most recent book, Like Dreamers, took the top prize in the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards.

A frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of leading newspapers and magazines, he is a contributing editor to The New Republic and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Yossi is active in reconciliation efforts between Muslims and Jews and serves as Chairman of Open House, an Arab-Jewish coexistence center in the town of Ramle, near Tel Aviv.

His newest book is Like Dreamers: The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation (Harper/Collins, 2013).

His first book, Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, was published in 1995. In 2001, he published, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
An extraordinary book. Yossi Klein Halevy is a deeply religious American-born Jewish journalist and Israeli citizen who has lived in Israel for almost twenty years. This book is written as a personal spiritual journey, in which Halevy attempts to experience and understand Islam and Christianity by joining in their rituals of worship. Despite the personal nature of the subject, his historical, political and social commentary are invaluable for those who wish to understand the Middle East conflict today. In a world where hatred is running rampant, he sends a message that solutions can only come through understanding, not violence.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By melodius on January 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. It really has two subjects : the political situation in the Holy Land of course, but also the difficulties and the promises of religious dialogue.
I particularly appreciated the fact that Mr. Klein Halevi reached out to Christians and Muslims without reneging or compromising his own faith. That kind of dialogue would, I think, ultimately be meaningless.
I agree with Mr Klein Halevi that real religious dialogue is the royal path to peace, not only in the Holy Land, but also in many other places. I fear, however, that very few people are capable of mustering the necessary strenght, courage, honesty and humility.
One of the things I particularly liked about Mr Klein Halevi is his intellectual honesty, both with his interlocutors and with himself. Moreover, he is not interested in easy victories. Much to his credit, he writes how uneasy he feels when certain Muslims or Christians reach out to him by pointing out their common ground and ... how different they both are from the third party !
As a Roman Catholic, one of Mr Halevi Klein's remarks that most struck me is how the passages of the Gospel which can appear quite antisemitic seem to echo Israel's (verbally) violent public debate. One of course knows these things, but it is useful to be reminded that the unkind remarks the Evangelists occasionally make about the Jews or the Pharisees are actually made in the context of an internal Jewish debate.
The only weakness of Mr Klein Halevi's book is that his Christian contacts were not Palestinians, but Ethiopians, Armenians and Europeans.
I have to admit, moreover, that I sometimes felt a bit uneasy reading about the syncretic, judaizing liturgy of the Beatitudes, a Catholic order about which Mr Klein Halevi writes.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dara on February 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden by Yossi Klein Halevi. I couldn't put it down. In his search for Muslims and Christians who would let him share in their spiritual lives, Halevi tries to find a way to connect with his erstwhile enemies outside of politics. He takes us along on his journey and what an astounding array of people we meet: Sufi sheikhs and French nuns and Armenian monks.
And most of all, we get to know Halevi, an American-born Israeli, sensitive and conflicted , who wants to participate in the rebirth of the Jewish people in its own land without harming other peoples, and understanding the tragedy that these two desires are in conflict.
It's a sad book because it ends with the resumption of armed conflict that began in 2000. But it's also a hopeful book because of all of the people Halevi meets who are willing to clasp hands across the divide. In one beautiful scene, Halevi attends a Moslem Sufi zikr, a session of mystical dancing which allows the participants to connect with each other and with God. Despite initial hostility, the experience brings home Halevy and his hosts together in mutual understanding and respect. It's a scrap of hope we can all use in these difficult times.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Rabbi Yonassan Gershom VINE VOICE on May 6, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a deeply thought-provoking book. I ordered it because I have personally been involved in Jewish-Muslim-Christian dialogues (trialogues?) in the USA, and I resonated with the reviews I had read. What surprised (and saddened) me was the extreme difficulty that Yossi had in even finding people willing to dialogue in the Middle East. I had been told that Israel was a segregated society (not officially, but socially) but I did not realize how deeply the mistrust runs. Villages and monasteries that are within visual sight of each other might as well be on different planets.
To cross the cultural divide can literally mean taking your life inot your hands.
Author Yossi Klein takes that risk. With the help of various unconventional guides, he meets with Sufi shaykhs, Armenian priests, Catholic nuns and many others, hoping to communicate on the level of the soul rather than politics. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes not. On so many occasions, history intrudes with its memories of past brutalities -- Crusades, Inquisitions, the Holocaust. This is not a sugar-coated utopian view of peace, but a scathingly honest chronicle of one seeker's search for common ground in a troubled land. With each new encounter, Yossi struggles with his own anger, distrust, and fear -- as did I when I read the book. Definitely a must-read for everyone who is or wants to be involved in interfaith dialogue.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Edward H Rettig on October 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Very few of us combine hard-headed political analysis with deep spiritual sensitivity. Yossi Klein Halevy, a contributing editor at the New Republic Magazine and at the Jerusalem Report, is a leading political commentator on Israel and the Middle East. In this book we see a different side of the man. Halevy is a man of exquisite religious sensitivity and deep humanity. He practices a kind of truly respectful inter-religious dialogue that is all to hard to find in our day. Whether engaged in discussion with nuns or meditation with Muslim mystics, Halevy never condescends, never juvenalizes and never fails to pay his interlocutors the supreme compliment of examining their religious beliefs with an empathic but discerning eye.
In our post September 11th world, we need the kind of wisdom that Halevy shares so generously.
Read this book.
Rabbi Edward Rettig
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