Gidon Ariel’s Story
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| Published: July 24, 2020
We Are Living In Momentous Times
I was born in Queens, New York to a traditional but not strictly observant Jewish family. In the 1960s and the 1970s, this was not out of the ordinary.
I went to a private Orthodox Jewish day school (called a yeshiva) until 5th grade, when my parents decided to enroll me in a local public school. I assume this was for financial reasons. Even though the majority of kids in the public school were Jewish, I felt that the Jewish focus was missing. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I didn’t know what I had ’til it was gone. During that year, I made a conscious decision to actively pursue and adopt my Jewish identity.
Sure enough, my parents saw how miserable I was out of the yeshiva, so they put me back for 6th grade. Thank God, a local youth group leader from Bnei Akiva, the world’s largest religious Jewish Zionist youth movement, introduced himself that year, and I was hooked. The idea of attaching myself to timeless values of Jewish identity—the religion of Israel, the Nation of Israel, the State of Israel, the Land of Israel, and above all the God of Israel—was so vitally attractive to me that, although I was barely 12 years old, I knew that I had found my life’s calling.
For the next three or four years, I spent more time in the youth movement’s club house than my own home. So much so that my parents invited me to discuss where I would attend 10th grade. The high school I was in was not a very good one; it closed soon thereafter. They surprised me and asked, “Gidon, have you ever considered going to Israel for high school?” Well, I jumped at the chance!
I landed in Israel a few days before the start of 10th grade. Luckily, as was traditional back then, Israel was having its annual teachers’ strike to start off the school year. This gave me an opportunity to hang out with my newfound friends and learn Hebrew.
But beyond Hebrew, I was overjoyed to learn something else: Torah.
This multi-faceted word encompasses a number of things. It includes the Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses), the entire Tanakh and the orally transmitted laws, stories and ideas given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai together with the Written Torah. It also includes any idea that any student comes up with related to any of these, from the time of Moses some 3,400 years ago to this day.
After finishing yeshiva high school in Jerusalem, I continued on to an advanced Jewish Studies academy, also called a yeshiva. This program was unique: it was a combined study-military program for soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. Instead of spending three years in the army, participants in this program spend 5 years in the army, but only 1.5 years or so in active training and duty. The rest of the time we sit and study Torah. By the way, that is what yeshiva means – to sit and study.
My experience in the high school yeshiva was wonderful, but this advanced yeshiva was literally out of this world. From dawn to midnight on average, we would sit with a study partner, reading and explaining to each other a text, trying to understand it and, when appropriate, disagree with it. Respectful disagreement with sources and teachers is an inherent, substantial component of Torah study. As the Jewish Sages say in Chapters of the Fathers: The timid cannot learn, and the strict cannot teach.
Each day I had a lineup of some dozen study partners, studying something different with each one. Over my six years at that yeshiva, I must have spent time studying with over a hundred different people! This experience of pitting my mind and personality against so many others’ made for especially sharp wits and sensitive personalities. As taught in Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
During a break one day from studying to run some errands in Jerusalem, I spotted a sign on an apartment building across the street. Now it was a hobby of mine to read the signs in Jerusalem. Did you know that you can get a degree in Jewish history just by reading Jerusalem’s street signs? In any case, upon crossing the street and looking closer at that sign, I saw it said ICEJ. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
Now THIS was a surprise. I mean, I am just a regular, garden-variety Jew. We are pretty keep-to-ourselves-in-a-friendly-to-others-sort-of-way kind of folks. I mean, over the past few thousand years, we’ve learned a lot, but mostly that everyone who isn’t a Jew is an anti-Semite. Jewish history is pretty much a thread of horrors: prohibition of fundamental Jewish practices such as Shabbat, circumcision, kosher food, and learning Torah; blood libels; forced conversions; destruction of synagogues; burning of the Talmud; the Crusades; the Inquisition; pogroms; and the horror of horrors—the Holocaust. And this is just a general overview, pretty much by memory. For a longer, but by all means not exhaustive list, search Wikipedia for Timeline of Antisemitism.
Yet here I was, facing a sign testifying to another kind of Christian. I walked inside.
After collecting some of the fliers, I started looking into this phenomenon of pro-Israel, philo-semitic (Jew-loving) Christians. I walked around Jerusalem and surfed the Internet, and discovered other pro-Israel Christian organizations. Bridges for Peace. Christian Friends of Israel. Friends of Israel. Christians for Israel. Christians United For Israel. International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
I dared to step out of my comfort zone and began attending events hosted by these organizations in Jerusalem, at first as a wallflower, but little by little introducing myself and finding my place as a speaker at their events. I have found that, while I am happy to offer to teach Christians about the Jewish roots of their faith (a/k/a Torah), more and more Christians are satisfied with simply having a friendly relationship with me and have no interest in evangelizing me.
Soon enough I discovered the linchpin: the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. This official Knesset caucus assembled the most comprehensive list of Christian leaders with a heart for Israel. Little by little, I began to make friends with many of these leaders. The fact that I was a member of the central committee of the Likud political party didn’t hurt.
One of those leaders was Christine Darg. Christine is a mighty woman of God. She divides her time between the USA, England, Arab countries where she evangelizes Muslims to Christianity, and Israel, where she shares of her love for Israel with her Christian friends from all over the world, and her Jewish Israeli friends, amongst whom I am humbled to be counted. I frequently address the groups she brings to Israel through her organization Exploits Ministries, sharing this story of my own new and growing relationships with pro-Israel Christians, and introducing Jewish concepts, to the delight of my Christian audience.
I started slowly, consulting with my rabbi if I ever felt I might be floating into unchartered waters, and cautiously sharing my hobby with only a few of my religious Zionist friends. I think there is no use in pursuing topics with friends who can be antagonistic to them. That being said, I think that more and more Jews in Israel are lowering their defenses like I did with regard to Christian Zionists, as they have proven their bona fides.
One brisk winter’s day in January 2014, I decided to share with Christine’s group an idea I had. Since I enjoyed teaching Christians so much, and so many of them enjoyed learning from me, what if I would do that, just on the Internet? A Christian online yeshiva, if you will. Well, there was a collective gasp that came up from the group, followed by one word: “Hallelujah!” Afterward, many people came up to me to encourage me in this new endeavor, including one, Bob O’Dell, who told me that he wanted to be the first sign-up in the venture.
Well, as they say, the rest is history. Bob, an unassuming, ever-smiling high-tech executive, had recently completed an “exit” (an Israeli word that means “a sale of a startup to a big company for a lot of money”) and after a few initial meetings with me, we created Root Source, the first online platform of Israeli Jews teaching Christians about Israel, Jewish concepts, Torah and the Jewish and Hebrew roots of their faith.
I had always believed that Jews teaching the world about the God of Israel is a prophetic commandment, as Isaiah spoke: For out of Zion shall come the Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem. The Jewish people had been mandated thus in the Sinai Covenant: You shall be for me a Nation of Priests. Israel’s priests, the sons of Aaron, are commanded to teach the rest of the Jewish people as it says in Malachi 2:6-7: For the Torah of Truth was in the Priest’s mouth… and the people will ask to learn Torah from his mouth.
So the analogy is clear. If Aaron’s sons are commanded as priests to teach their brothers the Jews Torah, and the Jews are the priests among the nations, then the Jews are commanded to teach Torah to the nations. This is not to mention the explicit mandate that Abraham was given by God to spread the knowledge of Him throughout the world.
But we Jews had a slight handicap in executing this requirement for 2,000 years or so. We were a bit preoccupied trying to survive. We must thank our friends, the Christians, for picking up our slack and spreading the good news of monotheism throughout much of the pagan world in our absence. And now that we Jews have come back to our Homeland, thank God, we can and must once again pick up our job of teaching the world about the God of Abraham.
Since I knew that there were many Christians who would appreciate such teaching, I thought that I could do my little part with a few blog posts and online videos. But Bob saw things quite differently. “This is a tremendous way for Christians to bless Israel!” he exclaimed. And in fact, Christians, like all nations of the world, are promised a reward of being blessed if they bless Abraham and his people. “By blessing the teachers of Root Source, prolific teachers who step out of their comfort zone to teach Christians, our students will be doubly blessed—empowered with new knowledge of God and His plans for the world, and Biblically rewarded for this fundamental commandment!”
I was a bit surprised by Bob’s vision. Surely, blessing Israel today can take many forms: advocating for the besieged State of Israel in op-ed pages, campuses, and parliaments; supporting poor Jews in Israel and worldwide; visiting Israel and strengthening the economy while enjoying the sights; and in general being a good person vis-a-vis the Jews. But Bob truly discovered a new facet to this Christian commandment as written in Romans 11:18: Do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
All of the blessings I listed above and more assume the Christian blesser has something that the Jewish blessee does not have. Think about that: there is a measure of arrogance in this position. When Christians take their spot at the feet of their teacher, much as Mary did in Luke 10:39, they are assuming a position of humble student. Now my fellow teachers and I want anything but to be venerated. We just want to teach what we like to teach, to people who want to learn what we want to teach them. But it is clear from the hundreds of unsolicited comments and accolades that we received that we have clearly struck a nerve.
Bob and I do not suggest that Root Source students refrain from other methods of blessing Israel. If there is one thing I have learned from my interactions and relationships with Christians, it is that there is no limit to the human spirit, to the Christian spirit. I sincerely believe that following your yetzer hatov—your good inclination, your conscience—is listening to the divine spark in you. And everyone’s spark is different, suited uniquely to them. Some people contribute money to the poor, some volunteer to teach English, some battle on Facebook. But we challenge you to challenge yourself! And browse our offerings at root-source.com.
Today, we are witness to countless miracles. The industrial revolution, the information age, worldwide independence of nations, educational and political democracy. All these and more are signs of the maturing of the human race. Many of these can be traced back to the first revolutionary, our aforementioned father Abraham. And so his most important innovation — belief in the One True God — must also be included in this list, because more and more people are coming to a considered deep understanding of the importance of that belief. And when people consider what is the greatest miracle of them all — the return of the Jewish People from the depths of their exile to their promised Land, as detailed in the Prophets — it is no wonder that so many of these thoughtful believers in the God of Abraham are drawn to His miraculous nation, the Jews, and their miraculous country, the modern State of Israel.
But of course, this development was plainly prophesied in Zechariah 8:23:
Thus proclaims the Lord of Hosts, in those days, it will happen that ten people from each of all of the languages and cultures of the nations will hold tightly and grab on to the tzitzit (the ritual cloak fringes) of a Jewish person and say we are going to go with you Jews, because we understand that God is with you!
I do not know what the future will look like, but for the foreseeable future I think we must all respect each other and allow the other his or her faith and life story. Just as each of us got to where we are at our own pace, I think that it is up to God to guide all people to where they belong, when they belong there.
Gidon Ariel, from Ma’ale Hever, Israel, a Jewish suburb of Hebron, moved there from Ma’ale Adumim in 2012. There, he was the Mayor’s Advisor for International Affairs. Together with his partner Bob O’Dell, an evangelical Christian from Texas, Gidon founded Root Source (root-source.com), the Internet’s first platform for Jews to teach Christians Torah and the Jewish roots of their faith. Gidon also is the director of Root Source Press, the premiere publisher of books by and for pro-Israel Jews and Christians. Gidon served in the IDF reserves as a Captain in the Military Spokesperson’s Office after spending over 20 years in the Armored (Tank) Corps. In Israeli politics, Gidon is a delegate to the Likud Party Central Committee (the Merkaz) and ran for the Ma’ale Adumim city council. He also was the coordinator of anti-disengagement activity in Ma’ale Adumim. Today, he is a member of the community council in Ma’ale Hever. Gidon Ariel made aliya from Queens, NY in 1978, and is married to Devra, who was born in Kansas City, MO. They are the happy parents of Elisheva, Akiva, Shira Rina & Ori, Chayim Zvi, and Moriyah. Gidon can be reached at email@example.com.