From time to time I drink my morning espresso at the café adjacent to our editorial office in the center of Jerusalem. Mostly young people sit there, students from the Bezalel Art Academy, which is across the street.
Recently, I overheard two Americans dressed in white robes at the next table talking in English to a young Israeli about the Messiah. They struggled to explain to the Jew at the table why Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. The Jew didn’t really care about the identity of the Messiah, only that he come and redeem the people of Israel.
The discussion intrigued me, so I took my time and perked up my ears. The young Israeli had been fascinated by Jesus from the start, probably less because of what he heard from the Americans at the table than from what he had previously read in the New Testament. He has been far more impacted by what was written regarding the biblical figure of Jesus than what he heard from the two “prophets” at the table with him.
At least that’s the impression I got by reading between the lines. The young Israeli knew about the love of Jesus and told his interlocutors what a unique message Jesus had brought to the people of Israel. The conversation between the three was open and direct. The American with the long beard was probably the key figure in the duo. At another table I heard onlookers in Hebrew compare the two Americans to Moses and Aaron in appearance.
People who live in Jerusalem often see strangers on the streets embracing the fashions of 2,000 years ago and attracting attention in the city center with their costumes. As recently months have seen the return of Christian tourists following the Corona lockdowns, it’s again becoming common to find “Jeremiah,” “Isaiah” and “Ezekiel” wandering the city.
In the video: An Ethiopian woman walking past Café Bezalel calls people to repentance and proclaims Jesus as the Messiah of the Jewish people. Israeli onlookers mostly pitied a young woman they believed to be suffering from mental problems. Nobody could relate to her message about Jesus.
In the Holy City it is not uncommon to come across tourists who believe themselves to be a biblical or prophetic figure. Either King David or Jesus, John the Baptist, Jeremiah or the “Mother of God” Mary. Yes, even God Himself. Visiting Jerusalem is a blend of fantasy and reality. Psychiatrists like to quip: When you speak to God, you pray. But when God answers audibly, you are crazy. And it seems as if God is particularly talkative in Jerusalem around Easter and Christmas and the Jewish festival of Passover. Jerusalem syndrome is not a disease, but rather a phenomenon, according to Israeli psychiatrists.
Back to the table next to me. The two white-robed Americans did not claim to be Jesus or prophets, but they did see themselves as messengers of God, Who had called them to go on vacation to Jerusalem and tell the Jews about Jesus, that is, to proselytize. This is actually not a problem on this particular street corner, because the young Israelis in this area are open-minded and liberal. But in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods like Mea Shearim or Geula, which you may know from the Israeli Netflix series Shtisel, the two would have been forced to flee.
The two Americans went on to tell the Israeli that the Messiah would return on a white donkey and redeem the people of Israel. The Israeli disagreed, saying that the Messiah will be cruising the streets of Jerusalem in a white Cadillac. I had completely forgotten about my espresso, which by now was cold, so engrossed I was in the interesting exchange of rhetorical blows.
No matter how the conversation turned out, one thing can be said for sure: Jerusalem is a special and unique city where special and unique people meet and interact, even just outside our offices in the city center. A few days later, by the way, I saw another tourist dressed in white in the downtown Jerusalem pedestrian zone, with a guitar on his back and pulling a white trolley behind him. God and Jesus were printed or pasted all over his white clothes. A few days after that I saw the same man on a blue mattress. Welcome to Jerusalem.
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