This relatively intimate retreat took place in the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem, on March 22nd and 23rd 2012. It started with introduction of the Interfaith Encounter Association and Palestinian Peace Society, followed by self introduction of the participants.
After dinner we held the Jewish-focused session. Dr. Yehuda Stolov, Executive Director of IEA brought a few texts from the Bible, Midrash and Talmud indicating the vulnerability of the orphan and the widow and therefore the need to make special effort in order for them not to be hurt. This is not only in the case they are poor – even if they are reach financially, they are still with low spirit. Some of the scholars claim that this is extended to all vulnerable people in the society. Hurting an orphan or a widow is treated as the paradigm of ill behavior, such as the behavior that led to the flood or the destruction of Jerusalem, while treating them well is the paradigm of doing good, which is a characteristic of the greatness of God and will lead to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Adopting an orphan is the example for charity that is ongoing and the one who raises an orphan is like she gave birth to him. The Midrash also mentions that God allowed the wolf to feed the orphans Romus and Romilus even though they were evil to the Nation of Israel when they grew up.
After the reach conversation we went for a walk in the Old City and managed to enjoy a bit the music festival that was going on that evening.
In the morning, the Muslim perspective was presented by Ahmed Makhluf and Dr. Taleb Alharithi. Orphans are referred to in the Quran 23 times. Basically there are two ways to encourage people to treat them well: stressing how good it will be for anyone who takes care of the orphan and how harshly will be punished the one who takes away things from the orphan. Helping an orphan or a widow is like praying the whole night or fasting the whole day. The one who helps an orphan will be together with the Prophet in paradise. Taking care of an orphan is a good enough reason to enter paradise while hurting an orphan is a good enough reason to go to hell. Taking away from orphans is among the seven things most important to refrain from (like murder or idol worshiping) and is equaled to putting fire in one's own mouth, which will also be their punishment in hell. An orphan has to carry his father's name and the guardian of the orphan's property has to take care of it more than of his own property.
In the concluding circle participants shared how important it was for them to add another light in the darkness and make one more step towards peace. One participant quoted the newspaper from the day before which mentioned the crucial role religion played in the success of the civil rights movement in the United States 47 years before.
We ended with coffee and cake that were offered to us by the Austrian Hospice to who we are very deeply grateful for their wonderful hospitality.
Small group dialogue