In September, German Christians Chris and Anke Guenther and their five children, ages six to 16, will be walking from northern Israel to Jerusalem in time for Sukkot.
This year, Sukkot will begin at nightfall on Friday, October 2. On Sunday, September 6, the Guenther family will head to Jerusalem on foot from Tel Dan. (Dan was the northernmost city of the Kingdom of Israel and was part of the inheritance of the tribe of Dan. A tel is a distinctively shaped hill that is flat on top and indicates where a community built their settlement on the ruins of a previous community.)
The family of seven have been living in Israel since 2015. They are here on a work visa issued to wife Anke Guenther for her work as a physician in the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera.
The Guenthers will walk an average of 12 km (7.5 miles) each day for a total distance of approximately 220 kilometers. They will stop and rest on Shabbat, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Anke Guenther grew up as the daughter of a pastor. Chris was baptized, but for much of his life, he was not a practicing Christian. Through the Etz Yoseph project, he had his DNA tested and the results suggested that he was descended from the tribe of Asher.
“For a few years, I doubted it,” he reported. Eventually, he embraced the idea that he is genetically connected to the Northern Kingdom. The family established Camp Ephraim to encourage others with a similar background to repent for the sins of their ancestors.
The motivation for initiating such a challenging undertaking is entirely Biblical. “This walk is repentance,” Guenther explained. “We are still walking in the same sins of our forefathers. The Northern Kingdom decided three times that they don’t need the line of King David.”
As Guenther understands it, the Northern Kingdom allied themselves with the wrong king three times – first with Ish-boshet, the son of Shaul (King Saul):
…then with Avshalom, son of King David:
…and finally with Yeravam (Jeroboam).
So the king took counsel and made two golden calves. He said to the people, “You have been going up to Yerushalayim long enough. This is your god, O Yisrael, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” I Kings 12:28
“They denied the anointed one and followed Yeravam who said, ‘If they go up to Jerusalem, their heart will be with the king of Judah,’” Guenther shared.
“I believe there is an eternal king from the line of David. [We want to] hold on to the branch of Jesse.” By undertaking this walk, the Guenther family is saying, “We’re willing to repent. By going up [to Jerusalem] again, we are saying that the breach is repaired and it is ready to be moved together. We need to do something practically.”
This isn’t the first time the Guenther family set their sights on Jerusalem for a Biblical festival. In 2011, shortly after the Fogel family of Itamar was murdered, the Guenthers made a spontaneous decision to catch the last bus to Jerusalem before Pesach (Passover). “We had no idea where to go. On the bus we thought, ‘Where can we go?’ and ‘What can we do?’ In Jerusalem, we met other people who had come up to Jerusalem for Pesach.”
But taking a bus is not the same as walking to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals. “What if we meet our forefathers and they say, ‘It was so easy to come to Jerusalem on a bus.’?” Guenther concluded that, “We had to walk.”
For Sukkot 2017, they walked from their home in Zichron Yaakov to Jerusalem. “We took mattresses and tents and water and food for the day,” Guenther recalled. After that first day, they trusted that, “Father would just provide.”
A few people accompanied them at the very beginning and the last few days, but for the most part, the family walked alone for two weeks and saw many miracles along the way.
“One time, in the midst of the woods, we were out of food,” Guenther related. Then they spotted where the army had neatly stacked food cans near the trash.
Once they slept in a park in Tel Aviv and strangers provided food and protection. “People would give us food.” They were also offered places to stay overnight. “One time we slept in a cave,” he recounted.
Last year, they walked to Jerusalem from Shechem (Nablus) where Joseph is buried.
This September, they are encouraging people from all over the world to join them. Given that corona restrictions are keeping tourists out of Israel, Guenther acknowledged that, “Father would have to have mercy to make it possible for people to come. If this is the historic moment we’re living in, why would He not open the gates of Israel to allow people to come to join us?
“We have tents and mattresses. We have a truck and trailer ready. Our family is on fire for it! Now we just need people with the right heart and attitude to join. If people need a place to quarantine for two weeks, the Guenther house is open.”
Those unable to get to Israel can follow their journey on Instagram on WhatsApp or online.
“My understanding is that this is where we belong. Father is leading us back to the Promised Land. We want to vote with our feet. We are not [still] bowing to golden calves.
“If this is not the time, I don’t know when it is,” he concluded.