The Grace Foundation was established in 2007 by Sabine Lichtenfels and Rainer Ehrenpreis. The inspiration to create a conduit for diverting money from the conventional economy – which is so dependent on the industry of war and on exploitation – into large-scale peace work had come two years earlier to Sabine Lichtenfels and Benjamin von Mendelssohn. Their conversation, on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, flowered into a series of pilgrimages and peace gatherings in the Middle East and Columbia.
The work itself began before the creation of The Foundation. In the autumn of 2000, when the second Intifada broke out in Israel-Palestine, Sabine Lichtenfels published online a meditation with images of reconciliation and peace in the Holy Land. This received a strong, positive response, including an invitation for her,17 year-old daughter Vera and Benjamin to speak at a demonstration in Tel Aviv. Thus began a deep commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. Two years later Sabine Lichtenfels and Benjamin von Mendelssohn held a reconciliation meeting with Israelis and Palestinians at the peace research center, Tamera, in Southern Portugal. After a few days of intense listening to each others’ experiences of pain and rage the participants came to agree on visions of a peaceful coexistence. Their stories provided the basis for the theater piece “We Refuse to be Enemies”, which was performed many times by actors and musicians from Israel and Palestine during a tour through Germany and Switzerland in 2003.
In November of 2005 Sabine and Benjamin facilitated their first peace pilgrimage in the name of Grace. Eighty internationals, including Israelis and Palestinians, walked for three weeks through Northern Israel through the West Bank to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The pilgrimage was a deep witnessing of the conflict, the suffering and also of the deep desire for peace. Every year since 2005, a pilgrimage or alternative activity takes place in the name of Grace. These are always about reconciliation and witnessing the situation on earth and the fate of people – and about healing through the development of a vision for a culture of peace. The emergence of community during the pilgrimages shows that the walls between people can fall, that conflicts can be solved and that trust can grow again.
“If we want planet earth to survive, then all the walls of separation must fall, the walls between peoples, between Israel and Palestine, between Europe and Africa, between the so-called first and third world. And likewise with the walls that we have erected in our own psyches, the walls between the genders, and the walls between humans and all creatures.”
Sabine Lichtenfels, Global Grace Day Meditation, 2007.
Born into a once-wealthy, culturally significant Jewish banking family in Germany, the issues of reconciliation, politics and money accompanied Benjamin from his early years. Benjamin’s engagement with the global political reality – and the existential need for ethical and practical alternative ways of life – motivated him to write to a number of wealthy European heirs to invite them to invest in a system change.
As the son of an accountant, Rainer Ehrenpreis felt the need to break out of conventional thinking about finances and into the freedom of a natural economy. He became passionate about diverting money into radical cultural experiments in a way which allowed money to be seen as a force for change. Rainer understood that by investing in projects which regenerate land and communities and which foster the flourishing of human and non-human life, money could be ‘humanized’. In 2011 / 12 Rainer moved to Switzerland, a hub in the global finance system, in order to continue his work on healed and healing economies. He does this work at the Centre of Unity, Schweibenalp.
The Grace Foundation was created in order to finance the pilgrimages and the development of exemplar grass-roots peace-building projects and education. It was from the beginning intended to become a small but precise instrument for bringing about a global turnaround through creative collaboration.
The founders’ confidence in the strategy of building projects – or models – that would catalyze a global system change is rooted in the work of Dr. Dieter Duhm. Dieter Duhm’s ‘Plan of the Healing Biotopes’ explains how a global impact can be achieved with relatively small interventions:
The creation of concrete projects at a number of selected key points on earth – peace research villages, healing biotopes and model settlements – will provide a critical impulse for the healing of the planet. They are acupuncture points, models for a world-encompassing culture of peace that prepare a field for the coming global changes.