This year the Messianic Jewish Shavuot Ingathering experienced a welcome and unexpected blessing. As the dawn broke on the early morning hours of the day of festival the heavens opened up and poured down abundant “latter rains” over the entire country. Accompanied by roaring thunder and hair-raising lighting, Israel experienced one of the best spring storms in her modern history, adding even more waters to the rising Sea of Galilee.
Groups from Beersheva in the Negev and the northern Galilee called organizers earlier to find out if the annual Messianic Festival in the Judean Mountains had been cancelled. “No way,” they were told. “If ever there was a joyful time to go up to Jerusalem it is right now.” Over 2,000 believers made their way up to the yearly festival and the blessings of abundant rains over the nation added an extra portion of joy to all.
With perfectly choreographed timing, as worshippers began the ascent into the Judean steppes, the ever present Middle East sun broke through and presented one of the most brilliant and refreshing days of the year for all to enjoy.
For thousands of years Israelis have made this annual journey up to Jerusalem for Shavuot. It has always been and continues to be a unique and special time of bonding for the whole family. Mom and dad, uncles and aunts, children and cousins all proudly carry the golden sheaves of the annual wheat harvest on the long trek up the rocky hills to offer their First Fruits unto the Lord. In similar fashion, the Messianic Jews of Israel also came bearing a wide variety of gifts to honor their Lord and Messiah Yeshua.
Walking through the hills of the pine tree forests participants were greeted to the sounds of vibrant Hebrew music. Messianic worship teams from around the country set the tone throughout the day offering praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. A special treat was the children’s choir made up of some 20 young vocalists together with violins, flute and cello. Proud parents together with the entire assembly were deeply moved listening to the pure and simple voices of these 5-12 year olds singing popular Hebrew songs such as, “You are so wonderful Lord Yeshua. We give you thanks and we love you so much.”
Activities for children included a Bible guessing game, face painting and tables of children’s books, music, videos and popcorn. Popular with all the children and adults was a large table with hundreds of brightly colored seasonal flowers open for all to make the traditional Shavuot bouquet garland. These traditional headdresses added beauty, fun and smiles to the whole celebration.
The annual gathering organized by the Messianic Jewish Alliance of Israel (www.mjai.co.il) includes an open-air fair of local Messianic ministries, arts and crafts. Throughout the day folks walked among the many stalls to learn about recent activities and offerings from the local believers. Here are a few samples:
Hachotam: a local publishing house printing Messianic materials in Hebrew for children, youth and adults.
Netivah: a national youth center with activities, camps and conferences.
Lech L’cha: equipping young Israeli believers for life and ministry including a 3-month discipleship school and a unique program for Messianic high school graduates to prepare them for their compulsory army service.
Medallion: offering a wealth of materials in Hebrew for the local congregations’ Shabbat School teachers and children.
The Bible Society in Israel: offering new editions of Hebrew Bibles and study materials.
Yuval: a Messianic school for the arts.
Most of the ministries, materials and programs offered were designed to encourage and train young Messianic believers. The emphasis on youth and youth ministries is an encouraging sign within the Messianic movement in Israel.
As with all Israeli holiday celebrations there was plenty of food to go around as people spread out blankets filled with traditional cheese cakes and dairy products. But perhaps the most delightful and significant part of these gatherings is the rich fellowship. Grandparents proudly showing off their new grandchildren, parents hoisting little ones up on shoulders to see over the crowds and Messianic brothers and sisters greeting one another with hugs and smiles make this yearly event feel like a family reunion. For many this is the only opportunity they have to renew friendships and pray for one another until next year in Jerusalem.