Annual Goodman Lecture to feature Rabbi Eilberg
In a world of strife and discord, Rabbi Amy Eilberg is on a mission: to identify peace-making heroes and hold them up for us all to emulate.
The first woman to be ordained as a Conservative Rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, in 1985, Eilberg believes that she has been called to “serve as a megaphone for the hundreds of Israelis and Palestinian peace activists who work together on a whole range of collaborative projects.” She is a visiting professor of theology at St. Catherine University and is teaching the department’s “Jewish Studies” course this spring.
Eilberg will give the annual Goodman Lecture on Thursday, May 1, at 7 p.m. in The O’Shaughnessy’s Recital Hall. Her lecture title is also the title of her new book: From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace.
In the course of her rabbinical study, Eilberg discovered an inspiring emphasis on peacemaking that underscores sacred Jewish writings, both ancient and modern. She says this knowledge inspires her scholarship, teaching and activism.
“Jewish classical texts have a love affair with the subject of peace. Of course, there are violent texts in the Jewish tradition as well, texts that express anger and xenophobia. But there is also a special love and passion for the pursuit of peace in these writings — and a sincere focus on peacemaking. ”
Published this month by Orbis Books, Eilberg's book seeks to emphasize and promote the strong peace-loving thread in the Jewish tradition. She also highlights the role of individual activist and peace-focused groups in Israel and Palestine.
The focus of her Goodman Lecture should appeal to all, Eilberg says. “The Biblical command to ‘seek peace and pursue it’ is a command not just for our leaders. It is a command for all of us, no matter where we are in our lives.”
Her book’s title is drawn from an ancient Jewish text from the third century: “It asks, ‘Who is the greatest of heroes?’ The answer is, ‘The one who makes an enemy into a friend.’”
A religious trailblazer
Throughout her nearly 30-year rabbinical career, Eilberg has chosen to work in pastoral care and spiritual direction rather than lead a congregation. In recent years, her efforts have focused on inter-religious dialogue and conflict resolution. Her work was inspired by a visit to a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue center in Israel.
“I witnessed a group of young people — half Jewish, half Palestinian — work together,” she explains. “Just watching them begin to enter into conversation with one another despite the odds was so riveting to me. I understood then that I was being called to serve this cause. I wanted to help with the Jewish-Palestinian conflict.”
Eilberg, who has also directed interfaith dialogue programs at the University of St. Thomas’s Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, is the perfect person to deliver the Goodman Lecture, says Bill McDonough, associate professor of theology. She has spoken in his “Christianity, Judaism and Islam” class, and when the Goodman Lecture committee was meeting, he said, “We have to have her back.”
Not all students at St. Kate’s are Christian, but the percentage of Jewish Katies remains small. Eilberg’s perspective on the religion and culture of Judaism is important, says Assistant Professor of Theology Elaine James. Students in Eilberg’s class have attended services at the synagogue where Eilberg is a member.
“I think it is illuminating not only for understanding their Jewish neighbors and friends but also for them to have a reflective self-understanding,” James says. “This class is an enriching experience, and Rabbi Eilberg is an outstanding rabbi.”
McDonough praises Eilberg’s clear commitment to interfaith communication. She respects the religious faiths of others while remaining proudly grounded in her own. “Her openness is apparent,” he says. “I know a Muslim student here who has asked Rabbi Eilberg to be her spiritual director.”
For some students, Eilberg may also serve as an inspiration, McDonough adds. She is a true trailblazer in the Conservative Movement, which now boasts some 300 women rabbis.
“I think people find St. Kate’s to be an island of hopefulness around women’s leadership and religion,” he says. “And when we bring in a woman religious leader like Rabbi Eilberg, it makes all the difference in the world.”
About the Goodman Lecture
The Goodman Lecture was endowed in 1979 by Arthur and Konstance Goodman, founders of Goodman Jewelers and parents of Mary Ann Goodman Reilly ’61 and Stephanie Goodman ’83 and grandparents of Kristin Reilly ’91 MSW’01.
The elder Goodmans were an interfaith couple who experienced anti-Semitism and wished to create a forum to advance the cause of Jewish-Christian understanding.