A Book by Ann M. Madsen

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The eyes of the world are on Jerusalem.  Once more this book makes that clear.  Because Jerusalem is in many ways the past, present, and future of all of us.  And it works on the inner world of our conscience. 

This renowned city of peace is presently, as so often, the very focus of terror and torment and ceaseless war.   No way to tip toe around the daily media coverage. 

Amidst the turmoil Ann Madsen has not only visited the golden city more than thirty times.  She has lived there for a total of five years and has become the friend and confidant of many of “the women of Jerusalem” – Jews, Christians, Muslims.  She writes with the sensitivities of a native. 

The seed of the book was Ann’s visit with the legendary 90-year-old Bertha Spafford Vestor in a tiny garden spot in Jerusalem.    Living through six consecutive “occupations,” Spafford had established an orphanage, a school, a mini hospital, and a last resort for children.

“How could you make it through each conquest,” Ann asked. The answer was in her eyes.  She was herself a neutral zone, a walking peacemaker.

That encounter led Ann to others.  

Each of these women is a “fair sample” of the multiple faiths in and around Jerusalem.  They range from a Greek Orthodox nun to a Palestinian grandmother, to a Jewish law professor, to the wife of a prominent orthodox rabbi, to a Christian-Arab.   Each one has a unique and breathtaking story.  All of them have one thing in common:  Their very nerve-endings are weary of being wary.  But amidst the tensions and wounds they have, by active serving, refused to become trapped or helpless or hopeless.

This book is the product of candid conversations and tapings.  Ann weaves them together in historical context.  The result is a set of autobiographical tracings and descriptions of how each has achieved meaning and purpose, and above all a measure of inner and outer peace in their daily lives. 

Since 9/11 this book has new timeliness.  People in heretofore safe places are asking,   “Where can I go for peace?” but more urgently, “How can I make peace even amidst smoldering hate?” We now know the feeling of being held hostage, as it were, in our own homes and neighborhoods.

Several of these women did not know each other ? or maybe even themselves ? until they read their own accounts side by side with others.  Two of them lived in the same block.  But fearing recriminations from all sides of the conflict, they had rarely, if ever, spoken to each other.

These women have not succumbed to the view that their troubles all arise from some external force or to the daily temptation to demonize those locked in the other sides of the conflict.

One of the highlights is the introduction of the book.  It is a verbal oil and brush portrait of present- day Jerusalem.  Ann writes in concrete, pictorial, vivid style of the city that continues to multiply and yet tragically divide.

This book is more than a “good read.”  It touches the real world on every page. The prose style is gripping and the content is fresh and revealing.

It is significant that former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek endorses this book.  It embraces his determined legacy that Jerusalem must become a universal city, a place for all, including all who seek contact with places made holy over thousands of years. 

Ann was present when one of the members of a now dismantled peace committee stood before a group of American visitors and said, “We must forgive.  And we must forget.” Amidst the conflict in the holy land these are words rarely spoken and even more rarely felt and lived.   But that mandate is exhibited by these women, whatever their backgrounds. 

One of the unforeseen effects of this book was a recent luncheon where many of these women sat down for the first time together at the same table in Jerusalem.  They ventured beyond the stark invisible barriers. At the end of the meal someone said, “If such women were in charge of the government, the war would end.”

These are stories of uncommon heroism and of love in action.  All demonstrate a saying that has crossed every cultural boundary in the Middle East: “If you can’t get over it, you must.”


Ann N. Madsen received her M.A. in Ancient Studies from Brigham Young University with a Hebrew minor. She is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Ancient Scripture, Brigham Young University, Utah, where she has taught since 1976. After visiting Jerusalem yearly for thirty years with her husband, Truman, she lived and taught at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies from 1987 to 1993.