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This is the 27th year in which the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem has been organizing its march of support for Israel. The ICEJ's annual Feast of Tabernacles series of events is slated to open on Thursday, but this year is different from all preceding years. This year the increasingly haredi-oriented Chief Rabbinate has seen fit to issue a ban forbidding Jews from joining the street celebrations in Jerusalem due to suspicions of "missionary activity" by the participating evangelicals.
The ICEJ will be bringing more than 7,000 Christian pilgrims from some 100 countries this holiday. This has grown into Israel's largest single tourist event each year, with thousands of well-wishing Christians congregating in Jerusalem and revitalizing its economy.
These boosts of economic and moral support came even in Israel's bleakest years of violence and in the face of danger, when others shunned Jerusalem. The march, moreover, has become a regular attraction for many thousands of Israelis.
It's gratifying to note that Jerusalem's municipality has paid no heed to dire assertions by the Rabbinate's Committee for the Prevention of the Spread of Missionary Activity in Israel. The Committee asserts that "according to information reaching us," some of the Feast's organizers are active missionaries, and hence "those who fear for their souls should distance themselves."
If any further proof were required of the Chief Rabbinate's shedding of its erstwhile religious-Zionist ethos and of its disconcertingly changing character, then this wholly undeserved, indeed unjust, edict furnishes it - in addition to a too-long list of hard-line and uncompromising positions on a great variety of issues affecting the daily lives of Israelis, both observant and not. Once again, the Chief Rabbinate is steadily undermining its own raison d'etre.
Staunchly defending the Rabbinate, Shas MK Ya'acov Margi argues that "then as now, Christian missionaries employ displays of ostensible compassion in order to finish off Judaism via their solicitous aid, money and manipulation." Christianity, indeed, believes in proselytizing, like most religions. Moreover, Jewish experience with such beliefs over history is not a positive one. Further, some fear that even those who profess love for Jews and Israel have ulterior motives.
But precisely because of both the painful past and ongoing present travails, we must learn to distinguish between friend and foe - in this case between those with dangerous ulterior motives, and genuine proven allies. Precisely because the Jewish people continues to be beset by foes, it should gladly embrace the sincere friends willing to proclaim their devotion to the people and land of Zion. We must recognize that it is the religious convictions of millions of Christians that lead them to sincerely support the Jewish state.
The ICEJ has sided faithfully - through thick and thin - with embattled Israel since 1980. It was set up in response to international condemnation that year of the Knesset's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's indivisible capital. Censorious world opinion pulled 13 embassies out of Jerusalem. It was then that Christians resident here, when celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, decided to counter the global tide and inaugurate their embassy in Jerusalem.
Ever since that September 30, 1980, the embassy has been in continuous operation to impart "love and honor" for the Jewish people. In its statement of purpose, the ICEJ admits that "we cannot change the past history of Jewish-Christian relations or dialogue, but we too can say 'never again' to Christian anti-Semitism."
The Feast of Tabernacles in the capital marks the visible public highlight of the embassy's multifaceted activities on Israel's behalf.
To rebuff such unadulterated amity and goodwill is beyond the irrational and foolish. It also cuts deeply against the grain of Jewish hospitality, particularly during the coming holiday, when we welcome ushpizin (guests) into our Succot. Symbolically, the ICEJ's emblem indeed harks back to the Jewish succa, consisting as it does of two olive branches poised like succa foliage over the earth with Jerusalem at its center.
We can only wish ourselves that this New Year would bring us many more visitors like those affiliated with the Christian Embassy.
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