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View from the top of the Austrian Hospice !
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Outdoor garden cafe at the Austrian Hospice
photo by Rhonda Spivak

View of Dome of the Rock from the Austrian Hospice
photo by Rhonda Spivak

View of the Pontifical Institute in the background of the photo taken from the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Reporting from the top of the Austrian Hospice

Editor's Report from the Old City of Jerusalem: Someone Rang Up Fraudulent Charges on My Credit Card

By Rhonda Spivak, December 1, 2014


[Editor's note: In the article below, I write about the historic Austrian Hospice. It is where King Abdullah of Jordan died in 1951, after being brought  there to be treated after he was shot in the head and chest by a Palestinian nationalist  in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  The gunman was motivated by fears that Abdullah would make a separate peace agreement with Israel. Abdullah's grandson, Prince Hussein, was at his side but a medal that had been pinned to Hussein's chest at his grandfather's insistence deflected the bullet that hit Hussein and saved his life. Hussein later went on to become King of Jordan, and his son Abdullah, named after the grandfather who died at the Austrian Hospice, is now King  of Jordan.]


I was in the Austrian Hospice last January, in the Arab quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, lining up to pay for salad and apple strudel at the delightful garden cafe', when my cousin Aviva looked over to me. She said that she had heard the guy standing in front of me say that he was a Canadian police officer from Quebec who was in the region to train the PA police under President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.


It seemed like a good journalistic opportunity to speak to him, even though I had come to the Austrian Hospice (owned by the Roman Catholic Church) for gastronomic not journalistic reasons.


The hospice is the only place in the old city where you can sip latte and drink up history (which literally lies at your feet), in addition to ordering apple strudel (just like in Vienna).


"You should try to talk to him," my cousin said referring to the Canadian police man, telling me she'd go and sit down and wait for me in the outside area of the third floor cafe. The cafe, by the way, is an ideal spot to sit and overlook the raucous Arab market below, and see the house down the street with a menorah on top that Arik Sharon bought in 1987, to signify his intention for Israel to keep all of the Old City.  (Sharon had never actually lived there)


As my cousin said this, I was handing the cashier my Canadian VISA card.


I looked over and told the officer that I had overheard he was a Canadian policeman and asked him how long he'd been in Ramallah.

"About six months," he said.

“How's it going?” I asked. 

"Well let's just say that I've been here long enough to know that neither side-neither the PA nor the Israelis -are telling us everything," he answered. I got the sense from his facial expression that things were far more complicated on the ground than this naive Canadian had ever imagined.

He indicated he wanted to go sit down, and I didn't have any opportunity to follow up with him.

When he left, I began contemplating the fascinating Nazi related history of the Austrian Hospice. (On the very day that the British declared war on the Third Reich, the Hospice was seized by the British authorities and it served as an internment camp for priests and monks resident in Palestine from the German Empire.) 

After lunch at the Hospice, we went up to the roof top where there is a spectacular view—I have never seen one better. The Hospice is located near Station III of the Via Dolorosa, the route that  Christians believe was the path that Jesus walked, carrying his cross, on the way to his crucifixion.

There is such a commanding view from the Hospice that I began to wonder if the reason Ariel Sharon bought a home so nearby is because of its strategic location near the Hospice,with that commanding rooftop.  My cousin Aviva noted that the view was more spectacular than ever after pointing out a young couple on the rooftop, where the male had a serious case of plumber pants. (See photo #1)

While we were up there snapping photos of the breath-taking views, a group of Jewish Israelis came up to the roof top  and their guide ended his tour by asking them to sing Nomi Shemer's Jerusalem of Gold, just as the sun was about to set.

He pointed to the Pontifical Institute known as the Notre Dame Center Hotel, which is owned by the Papacy. He explained that the Pope chose the location for his Pontifical institute based on the fact that from the old city it was the highest elevation in the nearby area, and as such it was meant to symbolize the ascendency of Christianity over Judaism.  (Remember that according to the Papacy, the New Testament is to replace the Old Testament.)

I never thought much of my conversation with the Canadian officer or of the Pontifical Institute until two months later in March when I was back in Canada. That's when I noticed two charges on my VISA statement that I didn't recognize. One was for a roof top restauarant at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame Center Hotel in Jerusalem for $90 U.S. and the other was for $172.86 Canadian for another Jerusalem restaurant . I was never at either of those places. (My husband was rather impressed that I noticed these suspicious charges, since he is generally suspicious of all charges on my VISA!).  


I have misplaced  my credit card before, but never had it stolen (It once fell out in the back seat of  a taxi in Israel. Thankfully, it was the taxi of my regular driver Eyal. I called him to see if the card could be retreived, but he didn't answer my phone call which was not like him. He called back about an hour later and explained that he was 'out on a date' when I called originally.  Thankfully, the date didn't go on all night as I would never have managed to get my card back !. ) 

When I called the Pontifical Notre Dame Center Hotel, they were able to email me a copy of a slip of my VISA with a signature. The signature was hard to read. It was not my signature of course, but no hotel or restaurant could know that when presented with my dummy visa card.


It was clear to me then that somehow somewhere in Israel, someone had made a duplicate of my VISA card, and was using the dummy card signing my name. Now I can never be sure when this happened, but given where the fraudulent charges showed up, I would venture a guess that my card was stolen somewhere in Jerusalem.

I have wondered if it could have happened when I meandered about the the Old City of Jerusalem the same day I visited the Austrian Hospice,  or if it happened on another day that same trip  where I had gone up to the Temple Mount, and dashed through parts of the Arab market.  Or did it happen when I was in West Jerusalem somewhere? I don't know.

Strangely enough I began to use my credit card more often in the Old City after a visit there a year earlier when I had noticed that in the  Christian quarter a female cashier had handed me back a lot less change than I  was due. This was after I had asked her to  break a large bill, since I did not have smaller bills. It was awkward and uncomfortable to go over the transaction with her, but she had shortchanged me substantially and after that I had made a mental note to try to use my credit card while in the Old City.

I realize I now may have to rethink this strategy after the fraudulent credit card episode, which was a real pain  since I had to cancel my card and  various utilities with pre-authorized payments had to be notified.

In any event, I am not sure whether I should use cash or a visa card when I next visit the Old City.

But when I next return, I have promised myself that I am going to go to the Pontifical Centre to see the rooftop restaurant, since I  have never been there before and figure it must have a pretty darn good view of the Old City.  

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.