Sunday, July 26, 2009


Nothing like a retreat. For someone that can not fly to a European spa or can not yet afford local ones, the word "retreat" conjures up an image of something akin to a trip to an Indian Ashram. Except that our interfaith retreats aren't about silent meditations. We go deep into conversations about commonalities in our respective religions. And I feel like I'm entering some kind of magic kingdom each time I go to the Austrian Hospice on Via Dolorosa. From the outside, the building looks forlorn and is situated at the corner of a very busy street on the main drag from Damascus Gate. But once inside, the hubub from the outside is gone, and so is the dust and dirt. The steps leading up to the building are adorned on each side with terraces and tables and chairs where quiet European guests are having a drink or conversation. The cafeteria serves amazing Apple Strudel and Viennese Coffee and even the nuns inside smile.

This time we met with Moslems from the Hebron area, plus there were a lot of Christian visitors from the U.S.

We tried to keep politics to a minimum, but with a subject like "Abraham" it can go either way. Like..."Abraham is buried in Hebron it's such a holy city for Jews because of it." "Yes, but the settlers and the occupation....." and the conversation then goes in that direction, until it's time for a coffee break or lunch or dinner.

This time I bonded with a young Serbian-American woman. Turns out we had the same parents growing up, or so it seemed. My family was Jewish Orthodox, while hers was Eastern Orthodox. While my dad was bent over reciting Psalms when he found out I had violated the Sabbath when I was 19 years old to go to Queens to visit a friend, her mother was lighting candles over saints for her wayward daughter's soul albeit quite a number of years later...

We compared notes and parental restrictions over dress codes, boyfriends (me: they had to be kippa-wearing and white; her: they had to be white (but they usually were black - which obviously didn't go down too well in her home); the fright at being caught; me with trousers on (instead of just being a good just-skirt-wearing orthodox Jewish girl), her coming in 3:00 am after a night at the pub with friends). We laughed hysterically and I told her my dad and mum were the Jewish version of All in the Family, though I doubt she saw those episodes. She is young enough to be my daughter. But it was nice to discover more commonalities during that retreat.


Alan Abbey said...

Amazing how few Jewish J-ites know of Austrian hospice. We were there recently eating apfel strudel mit schlag and the man sitting next to us was reading Das Kapital - in German - ROTFL

jerusalemgypsy said...

I'm trying to keep it secret. Don't want to many of us congregating there - it'll spoil the European atmosphere. The ones who go there now know how to behave :-)