It’s pretty obvious to just about everyone that tourism to Israel took a terrific beating this summer. Statistics show that tourism in August was down 32% in August as compared to a year ago and hit the lowest level for the month since August of 2007.
Yet there is still hope for the rest of this year, especially with the onset of the holiday season here and the arrival over the next few weeks of thousands of the seasonal “Israel birds” – not of the feathered variety but rather Jews from abroad who are flying in either to be in their own holiday apartments or to spend the holidays in hotels or with friends and relatives and to take in the sights and special atmosphere.
But there is another significant influx that will be prominent here during this season. They visit us faithfully all year round, but make a particularly big splash at this time with the annual Feast of the Tabernacles mega-event in Jerusalem. Celebrated this year from Oct. 10-15, the event has been sponsored since 1980 by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ). It annually brings to the country Christian supporters of Israel from all over the world, in good times and turbulent ones.
Although there was some hesitation over the summer in reservations for the event, due to the fighting in Operation Protective Edge, David Parsons, media director of the ICEJ, said he expects the level of attendance to match last year’s incoming number of some 4,000 an\d maybe even beyond that up to 5,000.
“We hope to be the ones to prime the pump (of tourism) here now, as we’ve done before,” said Parsons. He said that people will be attending from some 80 countries, a number of which do not even have diplomatic relations with Israel. There is even an effort to bring in some Christian pastors from Iraq, he said. “Were particularly excited about meeting this year in the new Jerusalem Arena,” he commented.
Among those who will be attending will be ardent Christian supporters from a number of pro-Israel or Christian Zionist organizations, including a group affiliated with Christian Friends of Israeli Communities Heartland (www.cfoic.com).
One of them, Derek Townsend, and his mother, Charlotte Townsend, both of Florida, have made multiple visits to Israel. For Derek, this is the fourth year in a row that he is coming to Israel. His mother has made an incredible estimated 50 visits to the country since her first trip in 1999.
Here, in the words of Derek Townsend, are his feelings about coming to Israel once again:
“Going to Israel during these times of unrest is a joyful event in my life, not a fearful one. How can I sit in the comfort of my own home and know that those whom I have grown to love, the people of Israel, daily face extermination by those who hate her very existence? My life has been tremendously blessed since the day I stepped out in total support and love for the Land and her people. I have been blessed because I have blessed Israel with my tears and prayers. I say that with complete humility.
“My encouragement to people is this: know the Land, know the people! It is absolutely impossible to know something you have never set foot upon, touched with your hands, seen with your eyes, smelled with your nose or observed with the inner sight every human being possesses. Find out the REAL Israel, based upon the REAL people who live there, and not through some media reporter’s eyes.”
Charlotte Townsend, in addition to her multiple overall visits, will be making her 10th tour in Judea and Samaria in October with CFOIC Heartland (www.cfoic.com/feast-tour). She comments as follows about her experiences:
“The Word of God has come alive to me… I was in Jerusalem during the start of the Afghanistan War, during the Iraq War, and during many other times of turbulence in the entire Middle East. In times of trouble, I want to be with the Jewish people in their homeland….
“Standing with the Jewish people has been a great joy.…So, to be going at this time, when rockets can start flying at any time, is no problem for me. In a world that is turning against Israel because of lies being told in abundance that are causing the world to support her enemies, I want to be a voice of rational reasoning that is telling the truth about Israel, both to Christians and anyone else who will listen. I encourage everyone not only to pray for Israel, but to get a map of Israel so that they can look at it each day and see where things are happening. I encourage people to come to Israel, be with the people, and see for themselves the reality of what they are not hearing on world news media.”
And so, it seems, we are not as alone in the world as we sometimes feel. With comfort and encouragement from friends like these – and there are millions of them all over the world – perhaps we can look forward optimistically to a better new year, one of joy and peace.