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Christian Feast of Tabernacles event opens with greeting from Bennett, Herzog

Massive annual celebration held online this year due to pandemic; International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem hails new government’s outreach to Christian world

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the 42nd annual ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles (screenshot)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the 42nd annual ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles (screenshot)

Senior Israeli leaders kicked off the 42nd International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem Feast of Tabernacles celebrations on Monday with video greetings as the massive annual gathering went online due to the pandemic.

“Your passion for Israel is an uncompromising statement of support for the Jewish State, for its people, and for our destiny,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, calling the ICEJ “a center of pro-Israel activism by our many Christian friends in the Holy Land and around the world.”

“This is what friendship really means — a true partnership between Israel and the many, many thousands of Christian supporters of Israel. And the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem plays a major role in maintaining this support,” Bennett continued.

The annual event, held online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will feature eight days of broadcasts from around Israel to hundreds of thousands of Christians around the globe.

The Sukkot holiday begins on Monday night.

In normal years the event sees thousands of Christians flocking to Jerusalem.

While the event enjoys staunch support from Israeli political leaders it has drawn criticism in the past from Israel’s chief rabbis who have warned the gathering was a missionary effort to convert Jews to Christianity.

President Isaac Herzog thanked the ICEJ and its supporters for “your unwavering continued friendship, particularly in the light of challenges each of you has experienced over the past year. I know that through it all, you continue to pray for Israel.”

A Christian Evangelical supporter waves her national flag during the annual parade in Jerusalem, marking the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of the Tabernacles, on September 24, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Sukkot connects us to our past, to our people, to our story,” said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “It reminds us that we all are part of something bigger. And it is time to give thanks for friendship, for the millions of Christian supporters of Israel who stand with us in good times and bad; to you who fight antisemitism wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head, who stand proudly shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jewish people.”

“We face challenges on all fronts: on land, in the sea, in the air, and in cyberspace,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz in his video address. “Our enemies, declare their desire to destroy the only Jewish state and follow up with actions that aim to harm our civilians, our soldiers, and our essence. In facing these challenges, the support of the Christian Zionist community is critical.”

ICEJ President Jürgen Bühler said the organization was “especially excited” about the new Israeli government’s outreach to the Christian world.

Christian supporters of Israel march during a parade for the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem in 2006. Thousands of Evangelical Christians are participating in an annual pilgrimage to support Israel (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Christian supporters of Israel march during a parade for the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem in 2006. Thousands of Evangelical Christians are participating in an annual pilgrimage to support Israel (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“We have never had so many senior Israeli cabinet ministers address the Feast as is the case this year, and it shows the Bennett-Lapid government indeed understands and values the importance of Christian support for the Jewish state and people,” said Bühler. “We also are most grateful for the warm holiday greetings from President Herzog, who has proactively engaged with pro-Israel Christians throughout his public career.”

The ICEJ has offices in more than 90 nations and supporters drawn from over 170 nations worldwide.

ICEJ raises millions of dollars to assist with the immigration to Israel of Jews from around the world. It has also provided portable bomb shelters and other assistance to Israeli communities on the Gaza border. The organization also runs a full-care residence for 70 Holocaust survivors in Haifa.

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