Food for thought

One of Jerusalem's best-kept secrets, St. Andrew's Scottish Church offers a bonny brunch.

October 10, 2006 10:35
4 minute read.
Food for thought

scots 88. (photo credit: )


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aggis will be served, and bagpipers dressed in tartan kilt and sporran will be skirling their pipes at the November 30 celebration of the feast of St. Andrew's - the patron saint of Scotland - being held at the St. Andrew's Scots Memorial Church and Guest House. But one need not wait until then to sample the delicious NIS 70 brunch served on weekends at the Scots Coffee Shop adjoining the church on Rehov David Remez, on the hill above the Ottoman Train Station. ">Related article: Heartless Jerusalem There one will find a wee corner of bonny Scotland, including a magnificent neo-Romanesque white limestone edifice evoking a Highland castle and keep. This is entirely intentional since the Kirk was built as a memorial to the Scotsmen who fell in the liberation of the Holy Land during World War I, and served the sizeable Scottish population of soldiers, administrators and police who lived here during the British Mandate from 1919 to 1948. Plaques pay homage to the fallen heroes of the London Scottish Regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and the 52nd Lowland Division, as well as members of the Palestine Police. History surrounds this building, which stands on the spot where the Roman general Pompey pitched his camp in 63 BCE in a campaign that brought an end to Maccabean rule and Jewish independence 2,000 years ago. The complex was designed by Chris Holliday, a popular British architect during the Mandate, who also worked on Government House - today the UN Headquarters, which was built as the palace of the British high commissioner. St. Andrew's foundation stone was laid in 1927 by Field Marshall Viscount Allenby, a decade after he led the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to capture Jerusalem and drive the Turks out of the Levant. A portrait of Sir Edmund (1861-1936) hangs in the dining room, recalling that after Allenby retired from the military in 1925 he became Rector of Edinburgh University. Don't miss the fountain of Armenian tiles created by David Ohanessian, which alas is non-functioning. Nor the pastoral garden. But it's Gwendoline Thompson, the hospice's general manager for the last two years, who is truly the Scottish rose here. A native of Edinburgh who today has a home in Ullapool on Scotland's craggy northwest coast facing Stornoway, Thompson, 55, has revolutionized the guest house. The coffee shop, which opened last year, is one of her ideas of outreach to Jerusalem's Jewish and Arab citizens. Previously hospice guests had to eat outside, though chefs would be brought in for large groups. Another of Thompson's innovations was to diversify the facility's 19-member staff to include Arabs and Jews, as well as messianic believers. "We work hard to have a mix of people working with us," she says. The guest house has 20 double rooms each equipped with a kitchenette and private bathroom available for $55 per person or $80 per couple. At double that price, one can stay in the lavish family suite, which Thompson and her husband Mark used to occupy before renting an apartment in the city. The suite offers a breathtaking view of the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea. Those prices are subsidized by the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian mother church which also operates Tiberias's luxurious Scots Hotel St. Andrew's Galilee. "There's something special here," says Thompson, gesturing at a panorama of the Old City ramparts, Mount Zion and the Valley of Hinnom. "It's got that Scottish feel. That you're at home. We want local people to come. We try to keep it affordable. Somebody once described it to me as the best kept secret in Jerusalem." But the secret is out. St. Andrew's has become a popular spot for wedding and bar/bat mitzva receptions, she notes, adding almost apologetically that the kitchen is not kosher. Thompson feels a special affinity for Jerusalem. Her late father Walter Williams served in Palestine with the British army during World War II, and used to regale her with his fond memories. Living in Northern Ireland for 25 years also gave Thompson a unique perspective on the Middle East conflict, which she blames in part on Great Britain's divide and conquer imperialism. "We're trying to make up for some of their mistakes." One step in that direction is to provide free space for Sunbula, a fair trade nonprofit organization that promotes economic empowerment of marginalized Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank through the sale of their embroidery and handicrafts. Similarly, St. Andrew's Church recently appointed Jane Barron as the first woman pastor of Jerusalem's only Reformed church. How did Thompson, who has a background in investment and finance and comes from a family of Quakers, end up as the GM of St. Andrew's Guest House? Everything is from God, she shrugs. One day in frustration after her computer crashed she answered an ad in The Scottish Herald. "I feel a great love for this land," she smiles, adding she and her husband hope to be able to retire here.

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