Christian delegation to commemorate Tisha B’Av with Jews in Israel

Bob O’Dell: ‘It is the center of the storm and will eventually be the center of great joy’.

August 11, 2019 02:55
The ruins of the Second Temple that sit next to a part of the Western Wall

The ruins of the Second Temple that sit next to a part of the Western Wall. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

A multi-denominational delegation of about 100 Christians arrived in Israel last week to commemorate Tisha Be’av on Sunday, acknowledge Christianity’s persecution of the Jews, and pray for forgiveness.

One of the leaders of the Nation’s 9th of Av initiative is Bob O’Dell, who is also the Christian co-founder of Root- Source, a web-based initiative that facilitates Israeli Jews teaching Christians worldwide.

He told The Jerusalem Post that he doesn’t see himself as the person at the helm of this initiative to commemorate Tisha Be’av, but rather the person who is “driving a bus.” O’Dell explained that there is a whole team of Christian leaders involved including “about four or five on the core team who are all working on this project daily for the last year, adding there are also five Jewish Orthodox advisors.

“I learned many years ago in a project we undertook to honor an African American leader in Austin how important it is to assemble advisers from the community in which you are trying to benefit and see yourself as working under their guidance,” he said.

Asked about what inspired this initiative, O’Dell said that “after working for 25 years in hi-tech and the Internet, mostly with Israelis, in 2013, I was finally free. Our Israeli-startup was sold a few years earlier, and as one of the founders I could retire if I wanted to. But instead I started looking for a ‘what next’ and in the meantime pursued some interests in the Bible and researching various things, and that research led me to discover my own Christian history.”

O’Dell explained that he couldn’t believe that after working with Israelis almost daily for 25 years, he had no idea about their history “That discovery of the truth,” he said, quoting a verse from the prophet Zechariah, “‘So love truth and peace’ sent me on a journey to try to figure out ‘what to do about it.’”

“Then in the fall I got an idea. Maybe I could use my business skills to be of assistance to Israeli Orthodox Jews,” he said.

“I was drawn to them especially at this time in my life because they believe the entire Bible is true, as I do... we had a lot in common.”

O’Dell first visited Jerusalem in 2013. “Within a few days through some coincidences I stood on the walls of Jerusalem overlooking the Jaffa Gate, and I heard Israeli Orthodox Jew Gidon Ariel share an idea he had to teach Christians the Torah over the Internet,” he continued.

“He had no idea who I was, but over the next couple of months, I can now say what really happened was that I ‘grabbed onto his cloak’ and said ‘can I be of assistance to you to help you get your idea going?’” That idea became Root Source. It took another five years, and correspondence with New Zealand Christian leader Ray Montgomery, a Root Source subscriber for the Nations’ 9th of Av initiative to come to fruition.

For both O’Dell and Montgomery, the key day in all their research was Tisha Be’av. “That is what we kept coming back to,” he said. “I now believe that what Jerusalem is to location, the 9th of Av is to time. It is the center of the storm and will eventually be the center of great joy.”

Several verses from prophet Zechariah, who speaks of Tisha Be’av Jewish suffering and future joy, played a key role, as well in forming the initiative, especially when it comes to telling the story of the Jews to Christians and “telling the truth about ourselves, to ourselves.

“To do this we just published a 500-page book called The LIST: Persecution of Jews by Christians Throughout History, as well as a book to accompany it, 40 Days of Repentance: A Companion Guide to The LIST,” he said, adding that the second book “helps Christians to process the truth and helps suggest how we turn to God in prayer,” and how to resolve to make a difference in the world through knowing this truth.

“We yearn for the day when the Jewish people can feast on this day [Tisha Be’av],” he said.

“Perhaps we as Christians will need to keep it day of remembrance forever, but after 2,000 years or more, would it not be great if this day could become a day of great joy for the Jews?” O’Dell said he hopes that this will happen in a divine exchange.

“After all that has happened to the Jews in the name of Christ, it might not be a bad result at all that we should turn this into a solemn day. Jews have carried the load for 2,000 years. Maybe it’s time for us to take on some of this burden. We are taught in the New Testament to bear one another’s burdens. This seems like a pretty good place to start.”

On Saturday night on the eve of Tisha Be’av, the Christian delegation was at the Haas Promenade in Armon Hanatziv overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem together with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to hear the Book of Lamentations chanted in Hebrew.

“Our goal is to begin to learn how to ‘get into the mood’ of the loss of the Temple, and in some small way to ‘come alongside the Jewish people’ who have been mourning the loss of the Temple for centuries,” he said.

“On Sunday morning, the group will meet at the Davidson Center’s pavilion in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, near the Western Wall, “to pray to God directly about the awful history, and ask God’s forgiveness for the Christian contempt for Jews that led to so much of the terrible history. We want to see this contempt - known in theological terms as ‘replacement theology - expunged from the worldwide church,” he said.

“That is why we are going near Solomon’s steps, to be at the place that is traditionally seen as the founding of the Church, by Peter where he delivered his first sermon on Shavuot.”

The delegation will also be meeting with World Zionist Organization vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel in the afternoon. Commenting on the initiative, Hagoel said Jews “suffered hundreds of years of persecution, defamation, accusations, pogroms and inquisitions” in the name of Christianity.

“The arrival of Christian representatives to the State of Israel, to Jerusalem from which we were exiled 2,000 years ago, and their intention to present and commemorate the antisemitic events that have taken place over the years to our day, reinforces the importance of inter-religious cooperation against antisemitism in all its form,” he said.

He also thanked the representatives of Christianity for this gesture “and hopes to continue the inter-religious cooperation and prevention of antisemitism all over the world.”

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