We arrived in Israel just in time for the Feast of Succot! Succot is one of the three primary Jewish pilgrimage feasts; it commemorates the time the Israelites spent dwelling in tents in the desert after the Exodus. During this week-long celebration, Jewish people build and gather in succahs, temporary structures with makeshift roofs, to recall their total reliance on God and to remember how temporary their dwelling is here on Earth.
The succah at Emmaus
We set out with our backpacks on a three-day journey, first to sleep under the stars at a monastery where the Ark of the Covenant once dwelled for twenty years (1 Samuel 7:2). Next we slept in the succahs of two families in Bet Shemesh (where Shimshon--Samson--was from). Finally, we caught our first glimpse of the Holy City! We traveled by foot the whole way, calling to mind the disciples' trip back to Jerusalem after recognizing Jesus at Emmaus (Luke 24:33), and continuing to grow in a spirit of prayer and trust in one another.
The Immersion crew walking the road from Emmaus to Jerusalem
Mass after camping where the Ark of the Covenant stayed for twenty years
At the Western Wall, we witnessed the "last day and greatest day of the festival" (Jn 7:37) when the Jews hit branches on the ground in a final call for mercy: "Hoshanna! Hoshanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!" On that day, Jesus cried out: "All who are thirsty, let them come to me and drink, and streams of living water will flow from within them" (Jn 7:37-38). Then some Jewish friends graciously hosted us and took us to pray with them at their synagogues. For many of us, this was our first time going to synagogue, and entering into prayer there helped us to better understand how Jesus would have prayed in his time on Earth.
Singing "Hoshanna" with branches at the Wailing Wall
The Immersion pilgrims with Orthodox Jewish friends in Bet Shemesh
Our last day in Jerusalem was the celebration of Simhat Torah, a feast that, over time, became a sort of exclamation point after Succot. On this day that the annual cycle of Pentateuch readings ends and begins again, the Jewish People praise God for the gift of the Torah with seven dances. Again, friends welcomed us to their prayerful Orthodox synagogue, where they pray and dance together for hours!
We then had Mass and adoration at the first-ever Hebrew-speaking parish and shared one more meal and, at a chic walking mall, caught a few more dances at a public Simhat Torah concert before taking the bus home. What a joy to discover the joy of pilgrimage feasts that were a part of Christ's life three times a year. May we carry on the joy of dwelling in the Lord with us throughout our time in Israel!