Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

Imagining Jerusalem

The natural beauty of Kalamazoo. (Peta Jones Pellach, July 2016).
The natural beauty of Kalamazoo. (Peta Jones Pellach, July 2016).

I used to believe that Kalamazoo was a fictional place created by Dr Seuss but a few years ago, my Israeli husband was sent by the company he worked for in Australia to their headquarters in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Imagine the laughs it raised in our family when, a few months ago, I was invited via my work in Israel to the same “imaginary” town.

My husband worked for Stryker, a biomedical firm. From the moment we landed in Kalamazoo, people were singing the praise of this company which sponsors every high-school graduate from their town to a first university (college) degree. Stryker’s contribution has totally changed the educational culture of Kalamazoo and thus, its socio-economic reality and prospects.

It seems that Kalamazoo, despite its somewhat humorous name, is a place that exemplifies social responsibility and concern for the greater whole. My destination was the retreat centre of the Fetzer Institute.  Fetzer’s work is guided by the words of its founder, a deeply spiritual man, John E Fetzer: “ Love is the core energy that rules everything … love is the one ingredient that holds us all together.”

The grounds of the Fetzer Retreat centre (Peta Jones Pellach, July 2016).
The grounds of the Fetzer Retreat centre (Peta Jones Pellach, July 2016).

The Institute describes its work as helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. The stated goal is to help catalyze and support a broad-scale, spiritually grounded transformation from an ego-centered way of being grounded in separation and fear to an all-centered way of being grounded in oneness and love. Their vision is to mobilize a critical mass of people around the world embracing love as the guiding principle and animating force for living in sacred relationship with self, others, and the natural world.

For anyone who observes the world today, we know that Jerusalem is in great need of more love and less hatred, more generosity and less ego, more trust and less fear. For those of us who take the words of the Biblical prophets seriously, peace and love must come out of Jerusalem. Until we “heal” Jerusalem, the beautiful vision of Fetzer will not be realized.

Some people connected with Fetzer, many motivated by the Biblical vision, have determined that is that it is worth investing in Jerusalem. They have identified a small group of people, Israelis and Palestinians, whom they believe can be a core community, bound by love towards each other, to the Holy City and to the ideals of peace, who will extend their vision in ever-widening circles. In order to solidify this “spiritual community,” their wisdom told them that it would be beneficial for this group to be away from daily life and away from the place that both inspires and frustrates us.

Thus, for three full days, a dozen people learnt about themselves, each other and Jerusalem and contemplated how we might make a difference in an idyllic setting that left no doubt that we were away.

Four dati Israelis, two of us representing the Elijah Interfaith Institute, two Israelis whose spiritual life is through meditation, three Palestinian Muslims, including Mohamad from the Jerusalem Consortium for Research & Development, and one Palestinian from the Christian community made the journey. Also at the retreat, participating fully with the group, was Maria Reis Habito, a Christian practitioner of Buddhist meditation who had been critical in bringing the group together. One of the Palestinians who was due to join us was prevented from getting on the plane due to paperwork confirming his security clearance not reaching the airport in time. Two other members of the group, one Israeli and one Palestinian, were unable to join us for personal or professional reasons.

Inspiring ideas (Peta Jones Pellach, July 2016)
Inspiring ideas (Peta Jones Pellach, July 2016)

Our time was divided between reflective practice, text-study and discussion, under the skilful leadership of Fetzer facilitator, Michelle Scheidt. We learnt about each other and deepened our commitment to the group and to the vision. Although the pain and frustration of the Palestinian participants was an undercurrent, the hope we all had for the future was the bond that kept us motivated. When we compared our dreams with the obstacles preventing their realization, we became convinced that these were not insurmountable.

We were driven by the words of Isaiah about Jerusalem, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” However, we all recognized that this Divine plan for our city requires better human action than is currently prevailing.

Imagining Jerusalem (Peta Jones Pellach)
Imagining Jerusalem (Peta Jones Pellach)

We did not attempt to make a detailed plan, start a new movement or even devise a project. We simply agreed that we would be a community of lovers of Jerusalem and of peace, comprised of friends, who would be together and do together whatever we felt should be done. We described ourselves as an “organism”, not an “organization.” We need all our parts to be healthy. We recognize that our growth will be organic.

Yehuda Stolov, founder of the Interfaith Encounter Association, jokingly said at the end, “Some might be cynical that Fetzer spent the money and the energy to bring a dozen people from the Holy Land to a beautiful retreat and all we achieved in three days was to agree on the date of our next meeting. However, that is precisely the achievement we needed.”

By meeting as friends, the ideas for joint activity will gradually emerge.

Transformation is not going to come from projects that seek to attract public attention and have easily measurable results. It will come from a core of spiritually-guided people who exemplify the Fetzer vision. It will require patience, with the eye constantly on the ideal and on ways to overcome the challenges. Only by confirming our willingness, even enthusiasm, to be a core community will we attract others to the vision.

One of the sources we read together consisted dialogue from the 2005 film, Kingdom of Heaven, about Balian of Ibelin who travels to Jerusalem during the Crusades of the 12th Century.

Saladin: Will you yield the city?

Balian of Ibelin: Before I lose it, I will burn it to the ground. Your holy places – ours. Every last thing in Jerusalem that drives men mad.

Saladin: I wonder if it would not be better if you did.

Balian of Ibelin: What is Jerusalem worth?

Saladin: [solemnly] Nothing. [He starts to walk away, then turns around and smiles]  Everything!

Jerusalem is everything to me. Yet, until we heal the deep divisions, mistrust, selfishness, fear, prejudice, self-righteousness and extremism, it is simply a place of conflict and not the sacred ground on which I imagine myself walking.

If you share these values, you are invited to participate in the Elijah Interreligious Leadership Seminar, beginning July 31st.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.