Chinese pilgrims 2015

One day a year, there is no boycott and divestment, our ties to our holy places are not challenged, and the Jews of Jerusalem are showered with love.

On that day, during the intermediate days of the holiday of Sukkot, thousands of Christian pilgrims join up with the annual “Jerusalem March” and wind their way through the city center to demonstrate their solidarity with Israel. The event is the culmination of the “Feast of Tabernacles” convention – a weeklong festival hosted by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) in which evangelical Christians from some 80 nations gather to express their love for the people and land of Israel.

On that day, the streets of Jerusalem are transformed into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors and vibrant hues, with the scene changing and shifting as each delegation passes. Brandishing banners and flags of their countries, the pilgrims dance and stride, garbed in colorful national costumes or clad in blue and white, some draped in Israeli flags. They march to the beat of timbrels and cymbals, as they praise God with drums and dance, and blow the shofar in the streets of Zion.

As they march, the People of the Word reach out to the People of the Book, holding hands, touching hearts, reaching past what divides us and focusing on what we share. They affirm our heritage and connection to this land as they affirm their own, and stand with the people of Israel in a spectacular show of support, rejoicing in the ingathering of our exiles as a harbinger of a future redemption.

Beautiful brides and princesses in flowing dresses march alongside High Priests with warm smiles, golden breast plates, and slanted eyes. Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty stroll by, waving Israeli flags. Lions of Judah and the Ark of the Covenant adorn fiery banners, as flags with white doves are raised high in the sky.

On that day, I join my nieces and nephews and thousands of other Israelis in lining the streets of the city. We welcome the pilgrims from Ghana and Germany, China and Korea, Fiji and Finland, Norway and Holland, France and Switzerland, Brazil and Argentina. We embrace marchers from the countries of my family’s past — America, Canada, South Africa, and Poland — as they dole out flags and stickers, bracelets and pens, baubles and trinkets, and handmade expressions of love and support. They give our children kosher candies and shower us with blessing upon blessing. Some of us give them toffees or cookies in return. All of us feel the love.

And they wish us “chag sameach” and sing “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem,” having mastered the guttural “kh” sounds necessary to wish us a happy holiday and to bless us with peace in the language of the Bible. They practice their Hebrew and tell us they love us and so does God. And we shake hundreds of hands and return tens of hugs and kisses and thank our well-wishers for coming to the Holy land and wish them love and peace.

On that day, I may find myself wearing a plastic Chinese friendship bracelet or a Brazilian wrist band or a pink spotted shawl that I receive from a beautiful woman from Korea. I wave the flags of eight different countries and smile until my jaw hurts, stopping only to wipe away the occasional tear. And I think of the prophecies of the end of days, when all the nations of the world will recognize the same God and ascend to the holy city of Jerusalem, gathering as one. Clearly it will look like this.

So if you ever find yourself in Jerusalem on Sukkot, treat yourself to the experience of the annual parade. Because with all the gratuitous hatred that surrounds Jews in Israel, one day a year, it is marvelous to bask in the warmth of gratuitous love.

Pilgrims from Korea stand with Israel

Photo courtesy of Eliezer Be’eri

Sukkot pilgrims from Switzerland

Photo courtesy of Eliezer Be’eri

Pilgrims give a thumbs up, Sukkot 2015

Photo courtesy of Eliezer Be’eri

Beautiful Asian pilgrims with fans

Photo courtesy of Eliezer Be’eri

Pilgrims from Papua 2015

Photo courtesy of Eliezer Be’eri

Pilgrim from Mali, Sukkot 2015

Photo courtesy of Eliezer Be’eri

Grasping hands, Sukkot 2015

Photo courtesy of Eliezer Be’eri

 

The 2016 Jerusalem March is taking place in downtown Jerusalem on the afternoon of October 20, 2016.