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Minutes of Retreat

April 17, 1994

Bergamo Center

Topic: Commonalities of Christian and Jewish Dialogue Members; Spiritual Heirloom

PRESENT: Dieter and Suzie Walk, Cochairs; Margaret Arment, Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, P. T. Bapu, Bert Buby, Elizabeth Burks, Bev Carper, Ken Carper, Shirley Flacks, Eleanor Koenigsburg, Harry Koenigsberg, John Magee, Bob Mass, Steve McFarland, Judith Moore, Eileen Moorman, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Louis Ryterband.

Dieter convened the retreat at about 1:30 PM. He noted that Phyllis Duckwall had sent thanks to the Dialogue for the flowers. Dieter warmly welcomed John Magee and guests, Bev and Ken Carper. Dieter then introduced the main speaker, Eric Friedland and explained that Eric would modify the original focus of the retreat topic.

Eric began his presentation by discussing some of the commonalities of the Jewish and Christian traditions. Both are based on critical redemptive events, and the traditions are rooted in the memory of those events. Both are based on a covenant between their respective religious adherents and God. Also, hope for the future is common to both faiths. This is exemplified by the concept of Tikkun Olam (perfection of the world) in Judaism and "All in all" (a quotation from St. Paul) in Christianity.

Eric challenged the Dialogue as to whether, given the long history and commitment of its members to the process of mutual understanding and respect, it should develop a covenant of its own to guide members and to serve as a model for other groups engaged in interreligious sharing. Ken Rosenzweig asked if Eric meant that the Dialogue should enter into a contract with written provisions, and Eric answered affirmatively.

Eric pointed out some problems with the prevailing attitudes respectively of Jews and Christians that may be seen to impair true dialogue. Jews view Christians as having the Noahite Covenant with God which is available to all humans rather than their own Christian covenant through Jesus back to Abraham. Similarly, Christians in the past have viewed the Jewish covenant with God as superseded by the Christian covenant. Ken Rosenzweig asked whether Eric visualized the Dialogue covenant as going beyond the concept of mutual tolerance and respect which could be easily agreed upon by the Dialogue members. Eric replied that mutual tolerance and respect have already been achieved by the Dialogue and that the Dialogue needs to proceed to a higher level.

Harold responded that there can be a virtue in vagueness if it promotes the process of mutual understanding. He expressed some doubt that the Dialogue members could agree on concepts that were essentially theological in nature. Lou expressed his lack of understanding of the concept of an absolute but his absolute faith in the importance of "respect." Dieter proposed a format for the articles of our covenant, "we affirm . . ." Bert quoted Rabbi Alexander Schindler's statement about the mystery of the religious experience and proposed that it could be an article the Dialogue members could agree upon. Eileen expressed the desire for a statement about the mystery of God and the common experience of the two religions. Eric responded that we should start with the practical things that have drawn us together. Then later, we can work up to the commonalities of our faith ( a more difficult process).

Shirley recommended that we get to work using the flip chart to list our ideas. She suggested a brainstorming approach in which ideas are listed but not criticized until a later stage. Bert took responsibility for the flip chart, recording ideas on it as they were volunteered by attendees. The following ideas were submitted:

  1. Affirm the covenental status of each others religion (Eric)
  2. Common belief in God (Shirley)
  3. Recognize the difficulties of disagreement (Eileen)
  4. Reverence for one another (i.e., love) (Bert)
  5. Commitment to reversing people's ignorance which leads to religious bigotry
  6. Communicating the insights arising from our dialogue process to a larger audience (Eleanore)
  7. Value of a listening heart
  8. Asking forgiveness of one another (both individually and collectively as coreligionists) (Eileen)
  9. Transcending logic and reason
  10. Agreement about who Jesus is (Bob)
  11. Witnessing faith without seeking conversion
  12. Learning together
  13. Respect for the religious authenticity of each others beliefs (Ken Rosenzweig)

The first session of the retreat recessed at about 3 PM. Brother Don Geiger, Professor of Biology at the University of Dayton then led the retreat attendees in a hike through the Marianist Environmental Education Center (MEEC). It was a beautiful sunny day, and all reveled in the wonderful experience. Brother Geiger described various plants along the way and discussed the environmental history of the area. One especially interesting aspect was the necessity of intermittent controlled burning of the foliage in order to preserve the original prairie environment.

The retreat reconvened at about 4 PM, at which time Bev Carper described the events leading up to the writing and publication of her book, A Spiritual Heirloom. She described how she came from a dysfunctional family and how her husband and her children have meant a great deal to her. She incorporated her feelings in the book about many family events that she treasures, and also presented eternal values that she hopes her children and grandchildren will adopt and follow.

Bev passed out a handout which included a number of questions for group discussion.

  1. What do you know about your grandparents' faith? What have they left YOU that has been meaningful and encouraging to you to continue in their ways?
Answers to this question included such things as candlesticks (Harold and Sophie), love for the rosary (Eileen), the work ethic and honesty (Bob and Dieter), and generosity (Harry). Arthur told a poignant story about his Hassidic grandfather's love of stray cats.
  1. How do you intend to 'package' or preserve the messages you pass on to the next generation? (video, cassettes, photo albums, books, letters, diary, journal, etc.)
Shirley mentioned the role that guilt plays in passing on ones heritage. Arthur mentioned the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) as a vehicle for intergenerational transfer. Ken Rosenzweig mentioned a home phonograph recording made of his grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary ceremony in the 1950s which has sorrowfully been lost. Margaret told about the emotional experience of writing a letter to the baby of her son who she can no longer visit.
  1. What is a goal, dream, vision or desire you have yet to fulfill? Something you want to do, to become?
Eileen said her unfulfilled goal is to go to Jerusalem (especially in the company of her Jewish friends). Eleanore's dream is that her children will care for one another. Bapu asked how parents can induce children to follow in their footsteps. Arthur replied that this can only be done "by example," and Dieter reiterated this.

Bev raised the question of what traditions are worthwhile to pass on. For example, she says that she does not like the secular way Christmas is celebrated and has therefore de-emphasized this form of observance in her household. Dieter cited his 5-year family tradition of celebrating the Lord's Supper with a retelling of the Christian story. Bob talked about the former dysfunctionality of his own family, his changed behavior, and the importance of how one treats his fellow man. Elizabeth described her family tradition of giving toys to the kids at the beginning of summer to get them out of the house. Eleanore mentioned a videotape of Fiddler on the Roof as an important momento to ones grandchildren. Bev concluded at about 5:10 PM, and the attendees gave her a grateful ovation for her presentation.

Dieter led the group in some concluding discussion. Eileen talked of returning to teach a course at the University of Dayton. She is having the students write their own gospel. In other words, they are relating the scripture to their own life and are thereby getting to know themselves. Such forms of instruction may help counteract the moral disintegration in society. Students want to know what was the nature of their parents' faith. Dieter stated the need to reemphasize spiritual values and morality in our descendents and the larger community which is also our "family." Sophie said she wants to pass on the view to her descendants that there is something good in everyone and the good comes from God.

Dieter thanked those who attended, and the meeting adjourned at about 5:30 PM. A dinner in the Bergamo Dining Hall followed.

Kenneth Rosenzweig

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