During Sukkot, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem again will host thousands of Christian pilgrims for our 28th annual celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. The largest annual tourist event in Israel, our gathering draws Christians from nearly 100 nations and we expect a record crowd of 7,000 visitors this year. These pilgrims have a deep love and concern for Israel, and bring a lot of color and joy to the city of Jerusalem. And they always receive a warm welcome from the Israeli people, as seen in the streets of the capital during the Jerusalem March.
Our international participants have been the largest delegation in this parade since 1980, and are the reason most of the city's residents come out to watch.
Thus it is disappointing to learn that rabbinic authorities are trying to discourage the Jewish public from participating in this traditional march. They suspect that parts of our group are engaged in missionary activity, but the ICEJ has never conducted any missionary programs in Israel and we instruct our Feast pilgrims against such activity during their stay here.
The truth is that these Feast pilgrims are coming up to Jerusalem at Sukkot because the Bible invites them, and the members of the rabbinate know this well. Israel's former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren once addressed our gathering with the words "Bruchim habaim b'Shem Adonai!" – The traditional greeting given to feast pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. He knew that Sukkot is a time of joy when even the nations are invited to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob here in this city. So it would go against the Hebrew Scriptures to now reject our presence in Jerusalem.
For nearly 30 years now, the ICEJ has served as a "ministry of comfort" to Israel and the Jewish people in order to address the historic grievances that Jews have suffered at the hands of Gentile Christians down through the centuries. Evangelical Christians like us did not commit these atrocities, but we must bear the bitter legacy of those who came before us in the faith.
Thus the Christian Embassy has engaged in many dynamic, pioneering works in the fields of aliyah, absorption and social assistance. Our social-aid programs have touched the poor, the elderly, the disabled, Holocaust survivors, single mothers, battered women, troubled youths, and many others with needs.
For instance, we sponsored Israel's first mobile medical clinic and recently dedicated a new therapeutic swimming pool in Ashkelon to serve all the disabled children of the Negev. We have assisted over 100,000 Russian-speaking olim in making aliyah since 1989. And we have defended Israel's cause abroad through our network of national branches and representatives in some 80 countries worldwide.
In times past, the great Sages of Israel read the Hebrew prophets and declared that when the Lord would begin to restore Zion, Gentiles would be involved as well. As the prophet Isaiah foretold:
“The sons of foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you... That men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles, and their kings in procession... Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; and they shall call you The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel." Isaiah 60:10-14
We see ourselves as those friendly Gentiles promised in Scripture.
Sadly, however, some in Israel are alarmed by a Christianity that is no longer intimidating or hostile towards Jews. The Christian world has undergone tremendous changes in recent generations, and many of us now have a compelling love and concern for Israel and the Jewish people, instead of the hatred and contempt of the past. Many Jews have come to recognize this transformation. We will continue our efforts to win the trust of others who have not yet accepted our sincere repentance and righteous deeds on behalf of the Jewish people.
The writer is the executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org.il