November/December '99

The Feast in the Public Eye

Courtesy of Ya'akov Kirschen
From Australia to Alaska, the ICEJ's Feast of Tabernacles celebration this year received unprecedented coverage in the mainstream media worldwide. Whether on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, or via the increasingly popular Internet news services, our Succot gathering developed into a hard news story that drew the large Jerusalem-based press corps like never before.

Each year at the Feast, we must carefully balance our interest in allowing the press free access as a ready means to broadcast our message of biblical truth world-wide against the need for Feast pilgrims to have undisturbed moments of intimacy with the Lord and with each other.

But journalists stationed in Israel are busy trying to meet growing public interest in the approaching turn of the Millennium, and many already were intent on coming to the Feast to survey our pilgrims for their views on Bible prophecy. Then, after the story surfaced that the new Prime Minister, Ehud Barak might break with a 19-year-old tradition by not showing up to address the Feast, the media was at our doorstep in record numbers.

The vast majority of the coverage was so refreshingly positive and respectful, at times we wondered whether we could have written it better ourselves. A feature in The Washington Post led off:

It is a major annual tourist event in a country already awash in tourists: 5,000 evangelical Christians have come to Jerusalem, as they do each fall, to praise the Lord, walk in His footsteps and - not least -proclaim their love for Israel and Zionism. Arms raised and fingers fluttering, they packed Jerusalem's largest auditorium this morning, swaying and singing and smiling up a storm, then paraded through the streets in such numbers that Israeli radio stations warned afternoon commuters to flee the city centre.

One unique measure of the Feast's visibility within Israel itself was the fact we made two of the most popular features in The Jerusalem Post in the same week — "Dry Bones" by cartoonist Ya'akov Kirschen and humorist Sam Orbaum's column. Orbaum attended Opening Night and described the "Roll Call of the Nations" for his many readers:

Two of the nations were borderless: the Romany Peoples (Gypsies), and the ultimate show-stoppers, the First Nations of America _ 90 Native Americans who took the stage in full regalia…

I met my first Cherokee Zionist. "Where are you from?" I asked naively.

"North America," he answered.

"Yes, but which part?"

"All of it," he smiled.

A bearded man wearing white-feather headdress and beaded costume… introduced himself to me as Mozart Blue Thundercloud McAlister, pride of the Cree Nation. "I've had a love for Yisrael for 10 years," he said earnestly. He came here from Vancouver "to bless Israel."

Later in the week, The Jerusalem Post's prominent article on the Jerusalem March ended with the following paragraphs:

Some spectators were heartened watching the Christian marchers. "We like to see how the gentiles like us more than we like ourselves," said Tehila Blumenthal of Jerusalem, who said that she brings her two young daughters to see the parade every Succot. "All these people came here to wish us a happy holiday and it shows us that we're worth something. Sometimes we forget."

Perhaps one of the most important developments out of the media blitz was the assessment put on the Barak no-show, beginning with Ha'aretz, a leading Hebrew-language daily which first broke the story. The left-leaning paper wrote: "Members of the International Christian Embassy generally tend toward the right of the political spectrum, although they hold all of the country's leaders in great esteem, regardless of their political alignment." This positive appraisal of our genuine concern for all Israel later was echoed by other reporters, as well as by many Israelis in the streets.

In addition, major media outlets like CNN finally began to take seriously our outlook on the millennium. Reuters, the global wire service, filed a story under the headline "Zionist Christians urge Israel to think positive," quoting heavily from the ICEJ's Statement on the Millennium which was first issued some ten months ago. The article, which appeared in newspapers around the world, said the ICEJ urged Israelis "to welcome millennium pilgrims and not believe news reports that they are flocking to Jerusalem to witness the end of the world… The International Christian Embassy says it represents tens of millions of Christians of various denominations who see the existence of the state of Israel as a vehicle to redemption."

The week did not pass without the occasional dissenting article, as can be expected from those who have trouble with people of biblical faith. Yet in the majority of instances, we were shown a remarkable level of respect. Award-winning Time photographer David Rubinger and a Life magazine photojournalist were adeptly combing Feast events with their cameras. Israeli and international television networks pieced together favorable footage. Commentators on Israel Radio and National Public Radio were complimentary of our presence in Jerusalem. And the print media in general left behind a welcome record of balanced reporting on the 1999 Feast of Tabernacles.

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