By Amelia Krauss, News Editor
For one Union professor, Israel is a beloved destination for Bible study and worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Michael Mann, visiting professor in instrumental music education who began teaching at Union in August 2011, will be in Israel from April 20 to May 1 leading a tour group of 20 individuals through the Holy Land.
Mann has been leading tours semiannually for six years. He said the purpose of the tours is not just to tour the Holy Land but to study the Bible and the life of Christ from a Jewish perspective with the help of teachings from a Messianic rabbi.
Mann’s experiences in Israel are not limited to tours of Israel, however. Every fall, Mann spends three weeks in Jerusalem conducting the Feast of Tabernacles International Orchestra as part of a global celebration of the traditional Jewish feast.
The Christian celebration has been an annual event sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem since 1980. The gathering is intended to be an “expression of corporate worship to God in the city of Jerusalem” and an opportunity for Christians to “show love and support for the nation and people of Israel,” said Raymond Ramirez, music and creative director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
The festival lasts seven days and six nights and includes worship, plenary sessions, lectures from theologians, tours and a march through Jerusalem in support of Israel. Mann said 6,000 to 8,000 people from across the globe attend each year.
“The purpose (of the celebration) is to show the Jewish community that the Christians love them and that they are embracing their biblical mandate to support Israel,” Mann said. “There are Scriptures that specifically say if you bless Jerusalem the Lord will bless you.”
Mann’s responsibility is to lead the orchestra, which plays an integral role in worship at the festival. Mann said the orchestra, comprised of approximately 70 musicians from around the world, performs more than 60 pieces during the festival.
Mann began performing with the orchestra as a percussionist seven years ago and became the conductor in 2009.
“In a word, (the experience is like a) mountaintop,” Mann said. “When you think about a role that we have to support Israel, to be standing in front of those people worshipping with them and doing that in Jerusalem and being a blessing to those there, it’s fulfilling. … I’ve never been more in the center of God’s will than standing in front of those people knowing that we’re being obedient to the call of the Lord.”
Andrew DiBenedetto, junior cell and molecular biology major and clarinetist in Union’s symphonic band, said that during Mann’s trip to Israel last fall, he printed his students’ names on pieces of paper, prayed over them and placed their names in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, a traditional site of pilgrimage and prayer.
“(It) makes each of us feel important in that he is thinking about each and every one of us individually and not just as one big conglomeration of students,” DiBenedetto said.
Mann said he believes Scripture commands Christians to remember the works of God throughout history, because each points to Jesus. He said celebrating the feast is one way Christians can remember the hand of God in the lives of the Israelites and in their own lives.
Ramirez agreed, citing Zechariah 14 as a prophecy foretelling a worldwide gathering of believers to celebrate the feast. He said it is the responsibility of Christians who serve this same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to understand the festival and their relationship to the Christian faith.