Last week, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism announced another all-time record in incoming tourists for the month of December. In addition to being an all-time high, according to the ministry, the 358,300 tourist arrivals in December 2019 represented a 10 percent increase in tourism compared to last December. It is thus of little surprise that as total tourism increases, so too does the number of Christian pilgrims visiting Israel, the Jewish state and land of the Bible.
Out of all tourist entries recorded by Israel’s inbound tourism surveys from 2016-2019, more than half have been Christians, and of those recognizing themselves as Christians, almost half of them identify as coming to Israel for pilgrimage, a trip to a holy place made for religious purposes. So from 2018-2019, Christian tourism increased by 10.9 percent and pilgrims by 10.3 percent, and there is no sign of this trend slowing down in 2020.
The rise of Christian tourism to Israel can be explained, in part, by the ‘Biblical reawakening’ that many Christians around the world are experiencing as they learn about the Biblical roots of their faith.
According to World Emunah’s Resource Development Coordinator, Ruth Guggenheim, there is a growing, though still relatively small, movement of Christians who are “reassessing the origins of Christianity” and looking at the Tanakh as the source of their own faith.
World Emunah is the international arm of Emunah (which in Hebrew means “faith”), a leading social action organization that cares for some of Israel’s most vulnerable children and families.
Encouraged by the rise of the internet and accessibility to translations of Hebrew scriptures, Christians can now study the Bible from Jewish sources literature, opening their eyes in new ways and exposing them to the Jewish people and land. Many even observe Biblical festivals that before were only observed by Jews.
“For many, spiritually, it’s like coming home,” Guggenheim told Breaking Israel News.
This phenomenon has not only led to an increase in the number of Christian tourists to Israel but in addition, it has shaped how they tour the land. Today, in this context, a Christian pilgrimage may also include visits to Biblical sites also relevant to the Jewish people and the Bible.
On Israel365’s upcoming and exclusive Beauty for Ashes tour, co-hosted by Pastor David and Miriam Swaggerty of Charisma Life Ministries, guests visit both traditional Christian spots in Israel, such as baptismal sites, as well as spots that are also of great importance to the Jewish people, like the Western Wall, Temple Mount and Shiloh, Israel’s first capital. Additionally, guests visit spots that are of significance to modern Israel, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum and Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where Israel was reborn 71 years ago when David Ben Gurion declared the Jewish State.
In Israel, the land of the Bible, modern tourist sites beg to be viewed through a Biblical and prophetic lens, and Israel365’s Yeshiva for the Nations provides that very experience. At Independence Hall, for example, guests learn about the momentous day when, after 2,000 years of exile and various tragedies, the Jewish nation rose from ashes to establish a nation, just as the word foretold in Isaiah 66:8:
Whoever heard the like? Whoever witnessed such events? Can a land pass through travail In a single day? Or is a nation born All at once? Yet Tzion travailed And at once bore her children! (Isaiah 66:8, The Israel Bible)
With an optional pre-tour to Poland, celebrating the miracle of Israel being reborn incredibly just three short years after the Holocaust becomes that much more special.
As this trend of Christian tourism to Israel increases, Jewish groups like World Emunah are taking note.
“In recent years, we have become very aware of devout Christian Zionists who have a heart for Israel; those who have a deep belief in the prophecies and the Jewish people being in the land of Israel,” said Guggenheim. “This revelation is very new to Jews. We are not used to Christians looking upon us in a positive light. For thousands of years, we have had our guard up and been in survival mode. Now, we need to see how to positively engage with our new-found Christian friends,” she explained.
Israel365’s tour is a part of that engagement, taking visitors to non-traditional sites to connect them with the God, the Land and the People of Israel.
Though many Jews expressed hesitation at first, Guggenheim has witnessed a “tremendous evolution,” both in terms of the Christian desire for partnerships with the Jewish community, and subsequently the Jewish response to such opportunities “to work together for a better future.”
Written in partnership with Yeshiva for the Nations and Jerusalem Tours