HENDRIK-IDO-AMBACHT, Netherlands (JTA) — From its exterior, the huge constructing generally known as The Ark on this Dutch city seems to be like a typical Reform synagogue.
In the course of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the traditional olive tree that dominates the yard of this massive worship area is dwarfed by a reed sukkah, a ceremonial hut through which Jews eat their meals for one week annually on the vacation of Sukkot, in commemoration of the Israelites’ state of homelessness after they have been free of slavery in Egypt.
An attraction for The Ark’s younger congregants, the sukkah stands reverse the spacious and modern-looking constructing servicing their group of comparatively progressive worshipers.
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However The Ark is not any synagogue. It’s a well-liked Protestant church with an enormous illuminated cross affixed to the wall behind the pastor’s pulpit.
Situated 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Amsterdam in Holland’s so-called Bible Belt, The Ark’s congregation of 1,500 members is celebrating Sukkot, which this yr begins on September 23, for the second consecutive yr. The church has joined a rising variety of Protestant church buildings in Holland the place Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, has been celebrated in recent times by Christians who are drawn to the Jewish vacation’s theological and ecological significance.
“Sukkot, a harvest holiday, is deeply connected to the earth and heavens,” stated Piet van Veldhuizen, a longtime tenting fanatic and survivalist who has served as The Ark’s pastor for over a decade. “It has always bewildered me that it had no mark on Christianity because, especially today with rising awareness to the environment, it has so much [spiritual] potential.”
His connection to Sukkot is speedy and intuitive, van Veldhuizen stated, as a result of as a pastor, a part of his “mission is to emphasize the oneness between man and the environment.”
Van Velhuizen, 58, grew up in a religious Protestant household in Rotterdam, certainly one of many such households in Holland the place the Hebrew Bible enjoys equal standing to that of the New Testomony.
“Because Sukkot is a part of the Bible, it’s part of my faith, as well,” he stated, including that he wouldn’t have adopted a overseas spiritual customized for his parish from outdoors Christianity regardless of how pretty or interesting.
Whereas some Christians have been celebrating Tabernacles for years everywhere in the world — in america and Brazil, evangelical Christians journey within the hundreds to Jerusalem on the vacation — it’s notably widespread right here due to the commanding standing of Protestant Christianity within the Netherlands.
Moreover, openness to Jewish traditions is probably excessive within the Netherlands due to the comparatively low prevalence of anti-Semitism in Dutch society. In polls by the Anti-Defamation League carried out in 2014 and 2015, Holland got here out because the second least anti-Semitic nation in Europe, with solely 5 % of the Dutch inhabitants displaying anti-Jewish attitudes within the earlier survey and 11% within the later one.
For no matter purpose, it seems Dutch Christians started discovering Sukkot solely over the previous decade or so.
The phenomenon was first featured within the Dutch media in 2015, when the Reformatorisch Dagblad Protestant every day revealed an article surveying the customized’s rising reputation. Anecdotal info means that Sukkot is widely known by hundreds of worshipers in a number of Christian congregations in Holland as we speak, whereas the customized was exceptional 20 years in the past.
One of many pioneer parishes celebrating Sukkot is in a suburb of The Hague referred to as Pijnacker, which started celebrating Sukkot seven years in the past. That parish additionally helped van Veldhuizen arrange a sukkah based on halachah, the rabbinic Jewish spiritual code. Its partitions, the body of a celebration tent lent by a congregant, are coated in reeds; the roof is fitted with leafy branches that rattle within the brisk autumn winds.
However van Veldhuizen stated his congregation is “careful not to celebrate Sukkot as Jews.” Meaning utilizing the sukkah to interrupt bread as soon as on the primary day of the vacation – youthful members of the group take pleasure in a hearty bowl of pumpkin soup between its partitions — however not throughout the remainder of what’s a weeklong vacation in Judaism.
Van Veldhuizen stated he had thought-about shopping for a lulav, a closed frond of the date palm tree that’s a part of 4 crops — together with etrog and willow and myrtle leaves — used for ceremonial functions by Jews on Sukkot. “But it would be only to show to the congregants, not to shake,” as Jews do within the Sukkah, he stated.
“We wouldn’t use it,” he stated. “This is about acknowledging our commonalities with Judaism, not appropriating them.”
Consciousness and even celebration of commonalities with Jewish holidays is nothing new amongst Dutch Christians.
“Christian communities have concentrated on Passover, which became Easter, and Shavuot became Pentecost,” van Veldhuizen informed JTA on Tuesday in his church’s sukkah.
Sukkot and the 2 different Jewish holidays that van Veldhuizen named are the regalim — three main Jewish holidays throughout which Jews have been commanded to carry out a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.
However Christianity for hundreds of years had ignored Sukkot, which is also referred to as a Jewish harvest pageant.
To van Veldhuizen, this disinterest is related to a imaginative and prescient inside early Christianity of life on Earth as mere preparation for the afterlife.
“There’s not much room for connecting to the soil, to the nature of this world, within that frame of mind,” he stated.
However that’s altering amid rising consciousness of the surroundings. Sukkot, with its agricultural roots, emphasizes how humankind makes use of the setting for its wants.
“The fact that camping became popular in the Netherlands only in the 1960s and 1970s is another factor creating openness for this experience,” van Veldhuizen stated.
However some Christians — together with conservatives inside van Veldhuizen’s personal group — and Jews really feel uncomfortable with the brand new Sukkot development.
In a 2015 column revealed within the Nederlands Dagblad, Rob van Houwelingen, a outstanding Christian theologian, spoke of the phenomenon as inherently misguided.
“Just as I do not circumcise myself or refuse to eat pork, I do not build a sukkah,” he wrote in reacting to reviews concerning the development of Christians celebrating Sukkot.
Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs doesn’t present loads of enthusiasm for the phenomenon, both.
“If a Christian person wants to celebrate Sukkot because they feel it’s part of their faith, fine. I am certainly not going to say anything,” he stated. However doing so in some instances can result in a blurring of the road between Judaism and Christianity, he stated, including “This I cannot accept.”
Jacobs cited the development annually for the previous 20 years of a sukkah by Moadim, a Dutch group for individuals it calls Messianic Jews and who consider in Jesus. Arrange at a tenting website within the japanese Netherlands, it’s marketed as a standard Jewish vacation exercise. The motion of Messianics, or Jews for Jesus, as they are additionally typically referred to as, is deeply resented by many Jews, who regard it as Christian missionizing of a very deceptive sort. (Van Veldhuizen doesn’t determine with the Messianics.)
“That’s when the line begins to blur,” the rabbi stated. “People who believe Jesus is the son of God are not Jews, and when they invite people, mostly other non-Jews, to celebrate Sukkot, then it’s at Judaism’s expense.”
In any case, Jacobs concluded, “a Jew is a Jew and a Christian is a Christian.”
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