Only religion-beat professionals used to know about the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Israel that was more Christian than Jewish and involved all sorts of odd folks waving Israeli flags on the streets of Jerusalem.
Fortunately, the Atlantic sent Emma Green to cover the 2017 version of this Sukkot festival with the angle that these days it’s not just American evangelicals populating the place -- 90 percent of the crowd is made up of internationals. And that the local Jewish population is truly OK with them being there.
From the front lines of a conference center in Jerusalem, here's what she wrote:
JERUSALEM -- The scene was like a contemporary Christian music concert, but with a lot more Jewish swag. European pilgrims wore Star of David jewelry as they swayed among the palm trees of Ein Gedi, an oasis in the Judean desert. Spanish delegates sported matching “España loves Israel” T-shirts. A tiny woman from China jogged around waving a person-sized flag bearing a Hebrew word for God, while another Chinese woman periodically blew a giant shofar, the ram’s horn that is sacred in Judaism. The crowd sang songs from the Psalms, following transliterated Hebrew on giant television screens. As night fell, their chorus of “holy, holy, worthy, worthy” seemed to fill the desert.
This was the opening ceremony for the 2017 Feast of the Tabernacles, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s annual celebration held during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. More than 6,000 Christians from all over the world had come to show their love for Israel, and I tagged along with ICEJ spokesperson David Parsons and his wife, Josepha. “It’s like a pre-celebration before Moshiach comes,” she explained, using the Hebrew word for messiah.
I remember interviewing Parsons 17 years ago when some of us came to Jerusalem in the closing days of 1999 to record what a new millennium looked like from the Mount of Olives and to write news stories about some of the crazies who thought the Second Coming was imminent.
Christian Zionism typically involves a belief that Jews must return to Israel in order to fulfill biblical prophecy. While the movement long predates the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, it got new energy from the American religious right in the 1980s. Now, according to Daniel Hummel, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the movement is undergoing a transformation, both theologically and geographically.