By Dr Garth Gilmour
It’s been busy here in Jerusalem as we’ve returned from summer breaks and the conference season. For me these included trips in July to England for the CMJ UK conference, and to the north of Scotland for CMJ Israel’s very successful attendance at the Refuel Scotland conference at Gordon Castle in the Highlands and Islands, and finally in August to Toronto to the LCJE conference to meet with the great and the good of Jewish evangelism around the world. Some staff went on much needed holidays, others took time off. Polina from Shoresh married her Dan! And this was the down-time, the not-so-busy season of the year… And just as soon as everyone is back, Pedro Santos has gone to Ireland and the UK for a deputation, the Anglican International School has started another school year, new Beit Bracha directors Jonathan and Alison Hatton have arrived while Kent and Shawna Splawn are preparing to leave, Aaron Eime has gone off to north America to speak at different churches, Shoresh tours have started to come one after the other... and it’s busy once again.
And now it’s a different kind of holiday season. Not that this time of year allows us to take time off; no, this holiday season starts with the Feast of Trumpets, now often called New Year (though it falls in the middle of the Jewish calendar year), and continues through to the end of Succot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, ending with the feast day of Simchat Torah, Rejoicing in the Torah.
This month-long festival period includes Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a day of self-denial and repentance, and then the week-long festival of Tabernacles, when households across the country build shelters on their balconies, in the front yards of their apartment blocks, anywhere really where there is a bit of space. This, the third big festival of the calendar year after Passover and Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost), is a reminder of the fragility of life, the temporary nature of our existence, and the need for dependence on God just as it was for the Israelites during their 40-year sojourn in the desert all those centuries ago.
Sukkoth is also the festival of the nations (Zechariah 14:16), a festival of rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40) and, most significantly, it is traditionally and rabbinically associated with the coming of Messiah and the advent of the Messianic age; indeed, the haftorah reading for the first day of Sukkoth is that same chapter in Zechariah, chapter 14, that speaks of the coming of the Lord to stand on the Mount of Olives (v.4), when he will be King over all the earth (v.9). It’s an exciting time to be here. The city has a holiday vibe, it is full of tourists, pilgrims and other visitors, and for our guesthouse staff and volunteers especially, it is a very busy and challenging period.
CMJ has been privileged to be party to the joyful celebrations of the Feast here in Jerusalem for 185 years. It wasn’t always easy to enter into a festival spirit, especially in those early years when the local Jewish community was small, poor, oppressed and short on resources. And of course, there have been many times since when the Jewish people here and around the world have mourned as those of their number were persecuted, and murdered, just for being Jews.
And so it has been this year, too many times, and even this month. For on Yom Kippur itself, just last week, Germans praying in their synagogue in Halle during the holiest day of the year were attacked and murdered by a gunman simply because they were Jews.
How is this still possible, today, in 2019?
Surely we, as Christians who profess to love Israel and the Jewish people, can and must do more, speak out more, and be seen to be standing up more against this wickedness. If, for the Jewish people and for us, our happiest times must be tempered with the memory of our greatest sadnesses, as we are reminded at Jewish weddings with the breaking of the glass to remember the destruction of the Temple, then it is right that we remember right now during this week of joy that antisemitism is rife, and we have a calling, a sacred responsibility to be seen to oppose it however, whenever and wherever we can.
And so it is that I have to draw this short entry to a close. This will be the last of my blog entries.
The Feast of Trumpets that signalled the beginning of this season is also called New Year. Traditionally, we eat apples dipped in honey to symbolise our desire for the year that follows to be sweet. It is a time for new beginnings. And there will be new beginnings for Vibeke and me as well.
During the summer I resigned as executive director of CMJ Israel, and we will be leaving at the end of October. It has been an immense privilege to serve this ministry. We have achieved so much over the last three years, but there is much more still to do, and it will be for others to carry the flame forward. It just remains for me to say thank you to all who have written to us, encouraged us, visited us, prayed for us. We look forward to what God still will do in this land, through this ministry, and with the wonderful people he has raised up to serve his purposes here.