Flight Bans to Israel Aren’t Stopping these Christians from Commemorating Sukkot

In a typical year, thousands of Christians visit Israel during the festive days of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) which begins this year on Friday night, October 2. In previous years, a highlight has been the Jerusalem March. During the intermediate days of the Sukkot festival, contingents of Christians from around the world marched through the streets of Jerusalem, wearing colorful national costumes and sharing their love for Israel. 

Jerusalem March at the Jaffa Gate Sukkot 2011 (courtesy ICEJ)

Sukkot this year will feel very different, both here in Israel and in locations worldwide because Israel’s borders are virtually sealed and individuals from the Nations will not be able to enter for the holiday.

International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s Global Feast 2020

Israel365 News spoke to David Parsons, Vice President & Senior International Spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) about their plans to broadcast a celebration of Sukkot worldwide.

“The ICEJ’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration has consistently drawn crowds of 5,000-6,000 Christian pilgrims from 100 nations every year for 40 years now, making it, not only the largest annual Christian gathering in Israel, but also one of the longest-running international Christian conferences anywhere in the world,” Parsons noted.

ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles celebration (courtesy ICEJ)

Acknowledging that, “pilgrims will miss the experience of being in Israel and Jerusalem, which have so much to offer any visitor any time of year,” he spoke about plans that have been put in place to share the holiday with as many as Christians as possible.

“Our Global Feast 2020 will feature seven daily, two-hour live shows during the week of Sukkot to be broadcast from Jerusalem on major Christian networks around the world, plus an online conference package with over 100 seminars, briefings, virtual tours of Israeli sites and other content, viewable on-demand, over coming months for paid registrants. 

“We will miss all the colorful national delegations coming up to Jerusalem this year, but this new online format will allow us to reach more people with more speakers, singers and seminars than ever before.

“We are expecting between 6,000 and 10,000 registered viewers. In many nations, our local branch offices also are arranging ‘viewing parties’ in churches that will bring in thousands more participants.

“In this way, far more people will be able to participate in this year’s Feast than normally come in person.We are reaching far more people, with much more content than ever before. And many more well-known Christian leaders and worship artists are able to take part than in a normal Feast year, because they don’t have to take a big chunk of time out of their schedules to make the trip to Israel,” he related. 

Christine Darg of Exploits Ministry

Darg and her husband Peter have been involved in celebrating Sukkot in Israel since the ICEJ was founded by Merv and Merla Watson. “I can remember marching down Jaffa Road in those days during the Jerusalem March and the absolute wonder and joy of participating along with Israelis. I knew then that it was a new day for Jews and Christians,” she shared with Israel365 News.

Each year, Darg escorts a Christian tour group during Sukkot. “About ten years ago, we began ‘The Moveable Feast of Tabernacles’ in Jerusalem’s Old City. We invited a variety of pastors and rabbis to address us in the evenings.

Christine Darg speaking in a sukkah overlooking the Mt. of Olives and Temple Mount at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel during Sukkot 2018 (photo credit: Exploits Ministry)

Christine Darg speaking in a sukkah overlooking the Mt. of Olives and Temple Mount at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel during Sukkot 2018 (photo credit: Exploits Ministry)

“For the past two years, we hired a large sukkah on the balcony of the Dan Jerusalem Hotel overlooking the Temple Mount. One year during our Moveable Feast, we celebrated in David’s sukkah, as we called it, in the City of David, which was highly prophetic in light of Amos 9:11, which was our theme.


In that day, I will set up again the fallen booth ofDavid: I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew. I will build it firm as in the days of old, Amos 9:11


Christians worshipping in an Exploits Ministry sukkah in Israel (photo credit: Exploits Ministry)

“Through the years, we have enjoyed tremendous times of fellowship with Jewish speakers such as Rabbi Elan Adler, Rabbi Chaim Eisen, Rabbi Tuly Weisz, Avi Lipkin and Gidon Ariel.


“And so this year, sadly we cannot mingle in person, and it is a tremendous letdown for us. I can now tell you that I know what it feels like to be shut out and living in the Diaspora –  devastating! Heartsick. Home sick! 


“I have not arranged any alternatives because the ICEJ’s online Feast is well-planned and should be more than adequate under these circumstances.” Instead, Darg offered a concrete suggestion for how “to make Sukkot meaningful outside of Israel this year (given social distancing rules).

“I suggest making an area in one’s garden or balcony and decorate creatively. Have family time to teach, to enjoy communion with the Lord and meditate each day upon the biblical ushpizin (seven male Biblical figures who are supernal guests for Sukkot) as well as the matriarchs and some of the other great women of the Bible.


“I propose [that we] see our ‘shut-out’ positively, because the Lord keeps our lives from getting into ruts, even holiday ruts. I think perhaps God is saying the same thing about Sukkot this year, as he did during Passover,” she shared. 


Alternative Sukkot Celebrations in the US, Sweden and Germany

Jodie Sellers from Iowa shared with Israel365 News that, “each year since our family embraced living according to the Torah, we have been blessed to commemorate all the Holy Times found in Leviticus chapter 23. Spending the Feast of Tabernacles in the land of Israel was our family’s biggest and most favorite of them all! 


“During the summer, I met a man named Rico Cortes. He is a teacher and leader among Hebrew roots and Messianic groups here in America. Mr. Cortes invited us to come to Oklahoma to experience Sukkot with his group. He said that everyone camps out around Bell Cow Lake in Chandler Oklahoma. He said over 1,500 believers have attended in the past. I was shocked!  Our family had never fellowshipped with that many believers who have returned to Torah in any one place before! Apparently, this is a huge event that has been going since 1997.


“I know it is to be a season of joy, but I cannot help but feel heavy in my heart. Sadly, my eyes will be deprived of seeing and hearing the sukkot as they go up. I will not hear the songs of blessing in Hebrew as the lulavs are taken up. 


“This year, I will rejoice. But it will be alongside all the other ‘exiles,’ while I hold in my heart the vision of my Jewish family far away in their sukkot lining Jerusalem’s balconies and streets.”


Co-founder of Ani Yosef Pete Rambo of South Carolina shares Sellers’ disappointment. He told Israel365 News, “The last four or five years we have been in or very close to Jerusalem for at least one of the pilgrim feasts, if not two. We missed Pesach this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and really missed friends and fellowship in Jerusalem,  but comforted ourselves that we’d be there for Sukkot.


“Now, with very heavy hearts, we are watching pics and daily videos of friends in haEretz (the Land) walking from Tel Dan to Jerusalem to reverse the sins of our fathers who refused the trip due to distance. I’m sick that I can’t be there.


“We’ll celebrate here with our Torah fellowship, seven or so local families, 50+ people, but it won’t be the same. Our plan this year is eight days of very rustic camping in a remote location. Daily prayer and worship, but also activities that tune us toward surviving the craziness the US is descending into. It will be a bandaid on the gaping wound of not being able to come up,” he shared. 


Dorothe Waidelich spoke to Israel365 News from her home in Germany. “We usually try to be in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) for the chagim (feasts) in the fall. That is not possible every year, money-wise. In the past, we joined fellowship gatherings in Germany or the Netherlands. As for Sukkot, this is usually organized as a camp-out on camping sites.


“Now however, large gatherings here are difficult or not allowed, so we try to celebrate privately at home, building a sukkah on my balcony.  Also, we’ll meet people in the north of the Netherlands on a camping site. There will be prayers, Bible study, dance, a lot of eating and singing. I’m very much looking forward to it.

“We also bought lulavs (four species) this time, so we can pray for the ingathering of all Judah and Israel. I’m excited to receive them and do the bracha (blessing).

On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your God seven days.  Leviticus 23:40

Finally, at least some non-Jews are foregoing celebrating outside of Israel altogether. Nina Bjork of Sweden told Israel365 News, “I am sad because I’m not able to go to Jerusalem for Sukkot. It feels wrong to have some kind of celebration when I am not in Jerusalem. It would only make me feel sad, because it is not the same.”

Bjork explained that she is trying to raise money this year to help pay for someone else from Sweden, “who loves Israel and wants to learn more about the feasts and who has never been in Israel and cannot afford to go.


“If we find someone like that in Sweden, we would collect for the flight ticket for that person, so they can follow us next year for Sukkot. That person would be able to stand by the Kotel during Sukkot 2021 and give thanks to Hashem and read the names of the people that made the journey possible for them. That would be something to look forward to and bring light and meaning to Sukkot 2020 – to bring [someone new] to Jerusalem in 2021!”

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