Priestly Blessing at The Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Succot could not have come at a better time. The third pilgrimage festival of Judaism after Passover and Shavuot, Succot is unique in its message of outreach to the world, all of whose inhabitants are invited to Jerusalem’s Temple. The thousands of pilgrims both foreign and native who visit Israel’s capital on the festival are living testaments to the absurdity of UNESCO’s attempt to deny history.
The original invitation was issued by the Prophet Zechariah at about 520 BCE, when the first contingent of Jews returned from Babylonian exile. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16) Since its establishment in 1980, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has sponsored an annual celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in Israel’s capital.
Some 5,000 pilgrims from more than 100 countries come to tour the country and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
The culmination of the pilgrimage is the Parade of Nations, when thousands of pilgrims, many in native costumes, join Israelis to march through the streets of the reunited city.
Among the historical facts ignored by UNESCO is the ancient Christian link to Jerusalem, whose Temple played a significant role in the life of Jesus. Indeed, by seeking to sever the Jews’ connection with the Temple, the nations voting for the resolution actually voted to negate the origins of Christianity.
According to Christian tradition, Jesus kept the Feast of Tabernacles. On the last “great day of the feast” he stood in the Temple and cried out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38) While it may be assumed that the UNESCO executive board is not a particularly God-fearing body, it is unlikely that even the least devout among them believes Yasser Arafat’s ridiculous claim that Jesus was not in fact a Jew, but a displaced Palestinian. This year, the UNESCO vote granting Islam exclusive religious claim to Jerusalem gives the Succot pilgrimage particular importance.
One striking scene in UNESCO’s theater of the absurd was the organization ignoring the words of its own criteria for World Heritage Sites such as the Temple Mount: “Through their mention in the Bible, [they] constitute religious and spiritual testimony of outstanding universal value.” The Bible notes that both Temples were dedicated on Succot. (I Kings, 8:2 and Ezra 3:4) This year’s gathering takes place not long after a visit by several dozen pro-Israel Christian parliamentarians and government officials from some 20 countries, many of them affiliated with the Israel Allies Foundation. Several African nations have sent government delegations to this year’s Feast of Tabernacles, and growing numbers come from China and Spanish-speaking countries.
The Tabernacles pilgrimage provides spiritual support for Israel, and an economic boost as well. It is the country’s largest tourist event and solidarity mission, injecting an estimated $16 million into the economy. Christians make up more than 50% of Israel’s annual visitors.
The tradition began as a protest during the first Christian Zionist celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in 1980, when the Christian Embassy was founded in response to the threat of an Arab boycott that spurred the 13 last foreign embassies to leave Israel’s capital.
Beyond the spiritual impact of pilgrimage, participants in the Tabernacles event establish a physical connection with the reality of Israel that they have previously been denied by traditional biblical narratives and the distortions of the news media. Participants return home as nonofficial ambassadors, able to inform others and better to withstand the onslaught of the BDS movement in its attempt to negate Israel’s existence. This year many of them have the opportunity to visit Jerusalem’s new Friends of Zion Museum, which exhibits the heritage of Christian Zionism through state-of-the-art technology.
“I learned to not believe the American media 100%, and their slant on what this nation is,” Rev. Samuel C. Tolbert Jr., president of the National Baptist Convention of America, told JNS.org. “It is best for people to come and see it firsthand, and they will see a totally different view of Israel.”