The First Sunday in October

The Festival of Tabernacle is a gathering time for Christians from around the world. They come to Israel to celebrate and pray.

For years now, Eagles Wings, a New York based church, holds its Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem on the first Sunday of October in Jerusalem, Israel.

The event is broadcast live on G-D’s TV, as a guest program. This year, it was scheduled to begin at 4 P.M. Israel time, and some 15 minutes earlier we were seated and were being given instructions: “If you are tapped on your shoulder, please accept it as a request to tone down your enthusiasm,” we were told, apparently in continuation to some faithful who in years past were overly drawn into the prayer festivities.

I was seated next to a close Druze friend, his Israeli wife (who emigrated with her family from the former Soviet Union) and an American guy who made Aliyah and now lives in Judea and Samaria. Three Jews and a Druze in a sea of Christians.

On the surface, this sea was calm, with rays of sun able to penetrate the most beautiful color blue. Only minutes later we would witness that the sea was about to erupt (though not to part), and while uniform in substance, its elements gathered from some forty countries around the world.

One after the next, people called out their countries: “Hong Kong, China,” “United States,” “Korea,” “Philippines,” and it went on and on, each time my head jerking toward a different direction from which the country name was called, my heart filled with joy and gratitude.

I sat amazed. There were few of us Jews. There were several reasons for that: The start of a major holiday was nearing with great rapidity (at sunset just hours later), the event was held inside a church and many were cognizant of the obvious attempts to proselytize.

The organizers were very aware of it as well, and asked us, their Jewish guests in attendance, to stand up, which we did. We did nothing heroic, quite on the contrary – we came to give our thanks for those gathered, recognizing their faith was so deeply rooted in ours; belief and action.

On the screen above where we sat, 120:00 started the countdown. Two hours of a live broadcast from Zion, Jerusalem. First were the sermons (“speeches” in layperson’s terms), captivating, energizing, with direct messages. But then the event transformed. We, the lay (secular) people would describe it: “Let the Party Begin!” And by all means, it was a prayer party the likes of which we Jews, rarely experience.

Everyone was standing. Heads held high and hands stretched upward. The music was live and there were singers to assist. But whether on stage or in the audience, everyone knew the words and melodies. Verses from the Bible turned into songs of prayer.

The rhythm, repetition and melody were contagious. One had to join in. Over and over again, with every fiber in the body being energized, with a force that was gaining momentum, our prayers were ascending up, up and upward.

The power of music and prayer have long been recognized, but for me, I always see King David, “making a fool of himself,” almost in a trance, worshipping God the Almighty, for all to see and join. And we too were in Jerusalem, just inside the Old City – walking distance away from the holiest place for every Jewish person, almost equidistant from the Church of Holy Sepulcher – Jews and Christians together worshiping our One God.

Boy, it was hot. The church air-conditioning was either not working or without sufficient capacity to accommodate the throngs of people. All seats were taken and people were standing around the walls and in some of the isles and passageways. It was “standing room only,” everyone in their most beautiful dresses and suits, coming to worship, to be close to God the Almighty, and we were all sweating.

Oh, what a sight. Bishop Robert Stearns, who led the service and the program, used a white towel to wipe off his shaved, thus glowing, head every few minutes. We, the attendees and worshipers, stopped noticing the flow of sweat. We were all drained. Rivers flowing from us, but our eyes were fixated straight and up, our bodies almost inconsequential, whereas our souls were ascending, higher and higher, upward.

When it ended, and we exited the church, a refreshing breeze greeted us. Only then we understood how hot it was inside, but it mattered not. We came back to earth, as if from long distance travel that took us only two hours, yet transformed our very beings.

Was it like taking the Concord from New York to Europe? I think it was greater, many times over.

Except, next year, if the event is to be held at the same location, without air-conditioning, I will not attend. Now we know better, and we have become spoiled. Almost like refusing to fly coach if one can fly business!

Some years ago I attended the day of celebration. It seems that despite the passage of time, neither the enthusiasm nor the passion has subsided.

With increased vigor and strength, and complete devotion, our Christian sisters and brothers descend on Israel, during the Festival of Tabernacles, but other times of the year as well, and express their deep love and support.

Vanessa Frank’s parents (“Let the Lion Roar”), Laurie Cardoza-Moore (“Proclaiming Justice to The Nations”), Robert Stearns (“Eagles Wings”), members of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and so many others:

We stand in awe and salute you – for we are most grateful for your standing steadfast with us. You and seemingly no one else.

Photo Story

This story is also published in Israel Monitor.

Ari Bussel
In the series "Postcards from Israel," Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel's on the ground, Zager's counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related - the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts - and so is this "point - counter-point" presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.