Thousands of evangelical Christians descend on Jerusalem for Feast of Tabernacles

Thousands of evangelical Christians from 80 countries worldwide are meeting in Israel this week to worship and praise in an event organised by the International Christian Embassy of Israel, which aims to stand with Israel "in support and friendship".

The 36th annual Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles opened on Sunday night by the shores of the Dead Sea and then moved to Jeusalem. Pilgrims have also visited the ancient Biblical city of Beer Sheva and the Nurit Absorption Center, one of several where new immigrants are helped through the system.

Christian worshippers at the Feast of the Tabernacles festival in Jerusalem, organised by ICEJICEJ

In spite of the support for Israel, the Christian Zionist event at the Pais Arena is controversial and opposed by some religious leaders, chiefly because of fears of proselytism.

Last week Israel's two Chief Rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, warned the event was "a spiritual danger" and told Israel's Jews they should not go. In a public letter they wrote: "We have been informed that people engaged in missionary activities on behalf of the Christian Embassy in Israel are organizing a major conference during the holiday of Sukkot, as part of the goals of this organisation – to get Jews to leave the religion of Israel and take them under the wings of Christianity."

The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Aryeh Stern, said he had been given guarantees that there would be no missionary activity.  

Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Inter-religious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and a former adviser to the chief rabbis, said he was sorry about their reaction.

He told The Jerusalem Post: "It seems to me that someone has set up the chief rabbis, for reasons known to these persons, and this is unfortunate because the ICEJ is extremely responsible in not advocating any missionizing or proselytizing activity at all."

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is among those who attended. Quoting the prophet Zechariah, he told the gathering: "Imagine how hard life was in Judah two thousand and five hundred years ago. Imagine how hard it was to rebuild Jerusalem and how it would echo far into the future! Imagine how difficult it would have been back then to appreciate the glory, the magnificence, the significance of the return to Zion. Friends, the return to Zion would be not a redemption of the Jewish people alone, but should give hope to all mankind. Indeed, it would change the world.

"Dear friends, thank you. Thank you for coming up from year to year, to worship the King, the God of Hosts. To celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Thank you for standing with us. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they that do be blessed."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped message to the thousands of pilgrims: "Israel has no better friends throughout the world."

Josh Reinstein, Director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, said: "They prayed, they had faith, they believed that one day there would be a prophesy that would be fulfilled. A prophesy that promised a better life for their children, that promised a future. That promise was the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the time when the nations would come once again to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. That time is today. Let me say, welcome home. As someone who is Jewish, I'm comforted and my spirit is lifted, to be surrounded by men and women of faith, who have always been our true friends and allies."

The Rev Malcolm Hedding, former ICEJ director, said in Jerusalem last night: "The restoration of Israel is evidence of God working in the nations... preparing the world for the greatest event in all of history – the return of Jesus of Nazareth. Why? Because there can be no reformation without the Cross."

ICEJ raises millions of pounds to help Jewish people from around the world make aliyah.