Speech: Dedication of the Interfaith Peace Garden at LMU in Avi’s Honor

Delivered by: Rabbi/Professor Arthur Gross-Schaefer, April 25, 2013

It says in the Book of Matthew, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

This garden is a spiritual space. It evokes the presence of all whose words adorn its pillars and benches. And this garden is a blessing to their memories, as we, in turn, are blessed by their words and their deeds.

All this happened because of this incredible university and community, which I have been privileged to be a part of for these past thirty five years. Avi, my son, was not a student here. And yet this institution chose to honor his memory. Avi was only 21 when he was struck down. And yet, we remember his all-too-short life with its powerful and enduring legacy.

Avi was a peacemaker. After finishing his service in the Israeli army, where he served in the Special Forces as a counter-terrorism instructor, Avi was determined to build the peace he so desperately dreamed of. Through relationships with Israelis and Palestinians, through his beautiful writing and passionate voice, and mostly, though the ideals and values that he embodied throughout his life, Avi demonstrated to all of us that one young and passionate person can make an indelible mark on the world.

I feel Avi’s presence here as I read these ten quotations, selected from submissions made by LMU students, faculty and staff, as each one of them evoke his hopes and dreams. One of his and my favorite sayings is: “An enemy is someone whose story you have not yet heard.” Perhaps the most resounding quote is from the Hebrew Scriptures: “seek peace and pursue it.”

Peace does not just happen. Peace must be pursued, it must be realized. Peace, like a garden, must be cared for, nurtured, cultivated and maintained. Avi taught us that we cannot be passive in the face of conflict that we must all move beyond our own pain, self-righteousness, or sense of victimhood to be able to acknowledge the humanity of the ‘other’. Avi’s memory reminds and indeed challenges us to be active pursuers of peace, to work to make this complicated, messy and beautiful world a better and more peaceful place.

To David Burcham, President LMU, to Dennis Slon and Lynn Scarboro, Senior Vice Presidents, and Erin Hanson, Director of Donor Relations: you all embody the very best of LMU’s core values: The spirit of remembering, honoring, memorializing, challenging, and hoping. You made this gift to our LMU Community a reality. It certainly takes more than a village to create this truly unique garden. It takes an inspiring leadership; it took you and many others. I would like us to acknowledge those who built this garden with their artistic talents, hands and open hearts. Erin, would you please join me for a second and help me point out those who built this garden literally from the ground up.

And, I also want to publically thank Erin and my wife Laurie who worked as a team, often with the help of my son Elisha to design and re-design and then re-design again to create what we see now… a beautiful garden of stone, with pillars and concrete benches, adorned with quotations — all except for one.

One bench is empty. On one hand, it represents the void in our lives created by Avi’s absence. But, on the other hand, it also represents the potential of each one of us to become a peacemaker. It is empty, waiting as it were, for each of us to find within our hearts new words, our words, to inspire us to make this cold world a little warmer, to make the darkness a little less powerful, to work towards creating a more peaceful world.

May this garden, these pillars, these benches, serve as a space promoting the values of understanding, empathy, civility and peace. As students, faculty, and staff come to this spot to visit, to walk around the pillars, to sit on the benches, may they feel our prayers, our thoughts, and our aspirations. And may this garden be a blessing to Avi’s memory and may it enrich and be a blessing to this incredible university community.

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