Christian Zionist Bob O’Dell is not the same man as he was in 2014. Spending five years connected to Orthodox Jews in Israel, he readily admits, has changed him. O’Dell and his Jewish business partner Gidon Ariel explore these exact changes in what they refer to as their most important book to date: Five Years with Orthodox Jews: How Connecting With God’s People Unlocks Understanding Of God’s Word.
O’Dell spoke to Israel365 News about his experiences and the book he wrote to “take the reader on a journey with me, to walk through the interactions with people and with the Bible and to join me, to see how my perspective has changed.”
Asked how interacting with Orthodox Jews in Israel changed him, O’Dell responded, “I have more awe, I believe I have more favor and I know I am more excited.”
Recapturing The Sense That God Is A Big God
“The biggest way I’ve changed is that connecting with Orthodox Jews in Israel has caused me to have more awe. When you see God has been working in an arena you hadn’t seen before, you’re like a kid again, being able to recapture the awe of knowing that God is a big God. He’s doing things with His people in Israel. Seeing that enlarges your whole view of the world.”
O’Dell believes that, “Christians have a view that’s too small when it comes to the Torah. We see Orthodox Jews partaking in the laws, walking in those commandments and the thought is, ‘Well, that’s a lot of work. I’m glad I don’t have to do that.’ Their approach to God is different than mine.
“But in my time with Orthodox Jews, all these practices I observed in my Orthodox friends, it suddenly hit me. Where did it come from? It came from God Himself! I am observing God’s culture. God gave these laws to them. This was a gift to me to see a new perspective on God. It was an awe moment.”
O’Dell observed that, as he watched his Orthodox friends living out God’s laws, “I’m looking at God’s idea for what a national culture ought to look like. This is God’s blueprint for a Godly society. The Jews bring that message to the world. The giving of the Torah was about creating a brand new culture on earth.”
From observing Orthodox Jews living out their religious commitments, “we all gain insight into His love, His majesty, power and intelligence,” O’Dell elaborated.
Gaining God’s Favor
“I began to notice, in my experience interacting with Orthodox Jews, that God began to unlock a deeper understanding of the Bible for me.” What astonished O’Dell even more is when he began to notice the same favor was being granted to “other Christians who were willing to explore the roots of their faith in relationship with Orthodox Jews. I watched as the blinders come off of Christians.
“Personally, I noticed I was hearing things at two levels. One is the direct knowledge of the Jewish people, which is huge. Christians would do well to learn what is taught by Orthodox Jews. The second level was a feeling that God is sharing more. God is honoring and favoring that.
“It’s almost like God said, ‘Because you’re willing to have relationships with my Jewish people without a preconceived agenda, I’m going to open up the Word directly and you’re going to understand things about your own faith that you’ve never understood before.’
“If you’re willing to interact with Orthodox Jews openly, God will reward the journey,” he explained.
Excited About The Redemption
“When I began to experience this awe of God, that there’s more going on in God’s plan, seeing His Hand on Israel and the Jewish people, at first I felt smaller. I felt like I knew less,” O’Dell admitted. But the more he learned, the more excited he grew with the idea that the End of Days will be even more glorious than he once imagined.
“It puts me on tiptoes with expectation of what God is going to do in the future. It’s going to be bigger, more diverse and more intelligent than anything I could ever dream of. My excitement for what will be is much stronger than my need to know what it will be,” he commented.
O’Dell believes that the ideal reader for Five Years With Orthodox Jews is “someone who has been around Christian faith a long time and feels more comfortable than invigorated.” The clear implication is that connecting with Orthodox Jews in Israel will refresh their own faith walk.
Advice For Christians Who Are New To Connecting With Orthodox Jews
O’Dell has two bits of advice for Christians who are interested in reaping the rewards he has experienced through getting to know Orthodox Israeli Jews.
First, he suggests that Christians read Five Years With Orthodox Jews. He wrote the book, in large measure, to demonstrate to Christians how they could benefit, just as he has, from building authentic connections with Orthodox Jews. “God sent me to Israel to be changed in what I learned and then to turn around and teach others,” he shared.
His second piece of advice is that every Christian ought to “establish some basic context for the historical relationship between Christians and Jews before they walk into their first conversation with an Orthodox Jew.” Here he is referring to the bloody history of Christian anti-Semitism that he and Ray Montgomery documented in The LIST: Persecution of Jews by Christians Throughout History.
O’Dell wrote an entire chapter on this challenging topic. “In Chapter 5 ‘We Broke All Ten’, I take the position that historically, over the past 2,000 years, we as Christians have broken all Ten Commandments in relationship to the Jewish people. My Christian brethren need to know it, though not necessarily mention it in that first conversation. It may well be the toughest chapter in the book, but it’s something that we have to face.”
Creating and Launching The Book
The book began as a series of blog posts written for Root Source, the educational project O’Dell co-founded. O’Dell’s Jewish business partner Gidon Ariel read each post in advance and provided feedback from his perspective as an Orthodox Jew.
“When it came time to start working on the book, I began to put together an early draft. I remember sitting in the backyard, looking into the woods and I prayed to God, asking, ‘Is there anything I’m missing?’ Almost like a flash, the thought came, ‘What if Gidon were to react publicly to these chapters? This book would be a lot more interesting that way.”
On one level, Five Years With Orthodox Jews is a book written by a Christian man for a Christian audience. On another level, it’s an illustration of the exact point the book makes – that adding a Jewish perspective enriches the experience for Christians. “Gidon’s insights added so much flavor to the book,” O’Dell noted.
Ariel will be hosting two virtual book launch events on Saturday, January 23 and Sunday January 24, 2021 at 3 PM Eastern, which is 10 PM in Israel. The celebratory launch events will feature special Jewish and Christian guests. O’Dell and Ariel will interact with their guests and tell stories from the book. Click here to register for the live events.
“This book took five years to live it and two years to write it,” O’Dell emphasized. “I’ve been frustrated with myself and with the delays in the process. Now I’m wondering if it isn’t coming out at just the right time, when Christians are frustrated by their inability to travel to Israel.”
Five Years With Orthodox Jews is his personal invitation to “Take the reader on a journey with me. It took 40 chapters to cover this from all angles.
“In the time of COVID, reading this book might be the best possible way for a Christian to experience Israel in 2021,” he concluded.