The connection between Purim and Tisha B’Av by Aaron Hecht

This post first appeared on Kineti and is authored by Judah Gabriel Himango, one of Tabernacle of David’s teachers.

To start, I must apologize to anyone who is hoping that this blog will explore some deep theological mystery or aspect of Jewish thinking or whatever. I’m afraid the connection between Purim and Tisha B’Av is, for me, entirely personal and actually something which just came up recently. 
Here’s why. 
On Purim 2008, I was living in Ariel, a Jewish city in northern Samaria, when the family of David Ortiz, who led a small fellowship there, suffered a terrorist attack. A Jewish man named Jack Teitel, who was known to the Israeli police, left a Purim gift package on the doorstep of the Ortiz family apartment (more on Teitel later in the blog). The package was taken inside by their cleaning lady and Ami, their youngest son (15 years old at the time) tried to open it to get at the goodies he thought must be inside. 
But instead of goodies, a pipe bomb awaited Ami inside the gift package. As he attempted to open the box, the bomb went off and severely wounded him. This happened in the early afternoon. 
I was at work when this bombing occurred and I got a call from another member of the tiny Believer community in Ariel letting me know about it. My shift was almost over so as soon as I could, I went home, quickly showered and changed clothes, and then went over to their apartment. 
The police were there, of course, and wouldn’t let anyone in. As I got there, several vehicles with markings from Israel’s big TV News stations were just packing up to leave, but a large crowd of concerned neighbors were there wanting to know what was going on. I found a place in the shade to sit and wait for the police to finish gathering evidence, and while I was waiting two other men who were members of David’s congregation, Yoav and Eli, arrived and joined me in waiting. 
The police took their time, and the crowd slowly began to dissipate as the concerned neighbors went home. It was after dark when the police finally wrapped things up and let the three of us go into the apartment to clean up the mess. 
One of the first things that happened was a police officer handed Yoav a coffee mug that contained some of Ami’s toes, which had been severed by the blast. I almost barfed when I saw them, but somehow I managed to not do that and the other two men in our little cleanup crew went outside to bury the toes in the garden behind the building. 
While waiting for them to come back, I took out my camera and took several pictures, including this one, which you might remember seeing at the time as it was used in several media reports about the attack.

After that, we started cleaning up and about 20 minutes later a woman who lived in one of the downstairs apartments came up and helped us. There was a lot of broken glass, blood, broken furniture, and other things that needed to get cleaned up. 
Once we were finished, I went home and tried to go to sleep, but it was a long night and I didn’t sleep much. I was pretty freaked out by what I’d just seen and very worried about what might happen next. I was worried that Ami might die and I was also worried for myself and the other Believers in Ariel, that we might also be targeted with physical violence. 
Over the next several days, those fears grew because it seemed like the police weren’t trying very hard to investigate the attack. Looking back now, it’s pretty obvious that they knew right away that Jack Teitel was the likely culprit, so they were focusing on him and not wasting resources on anything else. But we didn’t know that at the time, so it felt like they were just going through the motions of trying to find out who did it.
This made us all feel very vulnerable because it seemed like the authorities were not interested in protecting us from whoever it was who had already struck once and was probably looking for another opportunity to do the same. 
What brought us some comfort was the reaction to the attack from Christian supporters of Israel, including Charisma magazine and CBN News, which gave extensive coverage of the attack and its aftermath, including some very sympathetic stories about the violent persecution suffered by Believers in Israel.
Another source of comfort came from a sacrificial solidarity visit to Ariel by three good friends of mine, Tommy Waller and his eldest sons, Braden and Zach. 
I say it was a sacrificial visit because they didn’t have much money back then. This was LONG before their organization “Ha’Yovel” became the big operation it is today. Back in 2008, Tommy and his family had just begun to establish a presence in Judea and Samaria, bringing themselves and a few friends from their church in Tennessee to assist local farmers harvest their grapes. 
They were also DEEPLY interested in supporting the local Israeli Body of Messiah back then, so when they were in Ariel for the grape picking season, they came to the congregational meetings and even lead worship there. A song Braden wrote and performed for the first time at one of those meetings called “Tame my Tongue” changed my life and I will always be grateful to him for it. The Waller’s blessed me and other members of the Believer community in Ariel in many other ways while they were there and they made a point of telling us over and over again that supporting us was one of their highest priorities.
But the Purim gift basket attack on Ami Ortiz happened in between grape-picking seasons and at the time they were all back in Tennessee. Even though they couldn’t really afford it, Tommy, Braden, and Zach flew to Israel and came to stand with us in our time of trial. 
It was badly needed too, because the attacks didn’t stop. 
Although no one else was hurt, a few weeks after the attack on the Ortiz family a group of Orthodox guys publicly burned 200 copies of the New Testament in the central Israel city of Or Yehuda. Other rhetorical attacks against our community followed.
It was a very scary time to be a Christ-follower in Israel.
I was glad Tommy Waller and his sons were there to stand with us and, if necessary, suffer whatever further violence might be forthcoming alongside us. 
Then, something truly remarkable happened. 
No less than John Hagee, the leader of Christians United for Israel, made a solidarity visit to Ariel, bringing a huge delegation with him including groups led by pastors from several churches all over the US. 
He was scheduled to speak at an event at the community center in Ariel so Tommy, Braden, Zach and I made our way over there together. 
Tommy, I know you’re probably reading this. Do you remember that evening? We sat there listening to Hagee speak, waiting for him to say something about the attack on the Ortiz family. 
But he didn’t. He didn’t even mention it, although it’s impossible that he was unaware of it. 
As he concluded his remarks, handed the microphone to someone else, and walked over to stand next to his son on the sidelines of the event, Tommy and I looked at each other in stunned disbelief. 
I still had some hope at that point that before the evening was over, Hagee or someone else would make some kind of special statement about the attack. But there was nothing from anyone.
When it was over, Tommy, Braden, Zach and I went out into the parking lot along with a pastor from California who was part of the solidarity visit and had some things he wanted to give to Tommy. 
As we walked to his group’s bus, we asked him why Hagee had been silent about the attack. He got really agitated and asked us to lower our voices.
We got to the bus and he told us (quietly) that he hadn’t told anyone in his group about it because he didn’t want to scare anyone off coming. 
Also, as he explained, many of the people in his group were on their first trip to Israel and they didn’t know much about it, so hearing that a “Jewish terrorist” had attacked a Christian family might make them less supportive of Israel, which would defeat the purpose of bringing them on this trip. 
I was speechless, but Tommy wasn’t. 
He looked this pastor squarely in the eyes and told him in a gentle but firm tone that his attitude was all wrong, and that the Ortiz family and the wider Body of Messiah in Israel deserved his support, and he could certainly find a way to render that support without damaging Israel’s image.
The pastor, to his credit, got a little sheepish and promised to say something about it to his group as they traveled back to their hotel in Jerusalem that evening on the bus. 
But that evening left me very shaken, as I realized that aside from Tommy Waller and his sons, there wasn’t any help coming for us from anywhere. The police didn’t seem to be trying very hard to solve the case and arrest anyone and most of the large, powerful Christian Zionist organizations didn’t appear to be very interested in putting any pressure on them to try harder or help us in any other way. They were too worried about damaging their relationships with the National Religious/Modern Orthodox rabbis who lead the settler movement. 
But shortly thereafter, the police closed in on Jack Teitel and arrested him. It was obvious that he’d acted alone, and his actions were widely condemned by pretty much everyone, including some prominent rabbis who had never hidden their enmity towards Messianic Jews in Israel. 
The fear I had for my own physical safety and the safety of our community began to recede. Tommy and his sons went home, to return a few months later with their entire family, as well as some friends.
One of those friends was a young man named Luke Hilton, making his first visit to Israel. I met him just a few hours after he arrived in Ariel and I remember thinking that he looked really bored and irritated. In the next few days I spoke with him a few times and it seemed like he wasn’t really having a good time and was wondering why he’d come there. I remember doubting that I’d ever see him again after the end of his first trip. I was wrong about that, as Luke certainly did come back. More on him later in the blog. 
Years passed. I moved to Jerusalem, met a marvelous young woman, and got married. We have two children who are thriving in every way. 
For many years there was semi-regular harassment of Believers by Orthodox extremists and a few incidents of violence. But it was rare that anyone was hurt, and the police always acted promptly when we needed their protection. Jack Teitel sought parole to be released from prison a couple of times but the courts rejected his petitions. 
Several Israeli ministries grew up and began sharing the Gospel in Israel in very innovative ways. This led to growth in the Israeli Body of Messiah such as had not happened since the First Century. It’s been a very fruitful and optimistic season. 
But in the last year or so, things started getting scary again.
Following the last election, a new governing coalition was formed which included two parties that make no secret of their disdain for all kinds of people, including Christians. They are led by Bezalel Smotrich, who became Finance Minister in the new government despite his party having a mere 7 Knesset seats, and Itamar Ben Gvir, who became National Security Minister despite his party having only 6 seats and also despite his extensive criminal record which included several violent encounters with the Israeli police when he was a teenager. 
You’d think a history of fighting with the police would make someone a poor choice to be in charge of the country’s police, but apparently, not everyone thinks so. 
It also bears mentioning that his criminal record led to his rejection by the IDF. He went to law school instead and became a criminal defense attorney. In that capacity, he has defended several Jewish terrorists who committed acts of violence against Arabs, Christians, and others. He can’t be blamed for defending these murderous terrorists in court, as everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a competent defense. But he also defended them in the media and tried to portray them as heroes, or perhaps just reckless youths, who shouldn’t be punished too harshly for what they’d done. 
Keep that last part in mind, it’s VERY important for what comes later. 
It’s been just a few months since this coalition came into office and if you follow the news about Israel at all, you know that it’s been a very tumultuous time because of the governing coalition’s attempts to push through a series of measures to reform the judiciary. Against the backdrop of this tumult, there have been several attacks on Believers, most of them rhetorical but some of them including physical violence. 
The police have done what they can to protect Believers from this violence, but they’ve been very distracted by dealing with massive street protests and they’re also getting some mixed signals from Ben Gvir. A friend of mine who is a police officer told me that morale among the police is very low because of these mixed signals. This includes orders to use excessive force against protesters (the police chief of Tel Aviv resigned rather than follow those orders) as well as a (so far) aspirational plan to form a “national guard” which would be under Ben Gvir’s direct control, separate from the police.
It is, once again, a very scary time to be a Christ-follower in Israel. 
But this time, Tommy Waller and his sons aren’t going to come to help us. In fact, quite the opposite.
Ha’Yovel, through its modestly named media affiliate “the Israel Guys” which is led by the aforementioned Luke Hilton, has been very vocal in its support of Ben Gvir and Smotrich.
I know for a fact that Luke Hilton knows all about Itamar Ben Gvir’s defense of Jewish terrorists who have violently attacked Christians in Israel, just like Jack Teitel did. I’m also quite certain he knows all about how fearful Israeli Believers are of what Ben Gvir and Smotrich plan to do once they’ve finished ramming through these “Judicial Reforms” that will take away the ability of the Supreme Court to give any oversight to their legislative agenda. 
But Ha’Yovel won’t speak up in defense of the Body of Messiah in Israel the way Tommy did back in 2008. This is because several years ago they entered into a “strategic partnership” with the Modern Orthodox/National Religious movement in Israel, despite the very specific instructions in II Corinthians 6:14 against doing that sort of thing. 
 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?
II Corinthians 6:14 
But it didn’t start with this governing coalition. Ha’Yovel has made several statements and taken some very serious actions over the past several years that have been very injurious to the Body of Messiah in Israel, and it’s gotten worse as time has gone by. I tried to dissuade Tommy from this course, reminding him of his previous commitment to support Believers in Israel, but he stopped answering my emails. I sent old-fashioned letters in paper envelopes to his compound in Missouri, but they went unanswered. So I tried talking to Zach, who is the current Executive Director of Ha’Yovel, in person when I ran into him at different events here in Jerusalem. Zach always listened respectfully and even thanked me for bringing things to his attention. But then he’d just go off and continue on the same course. 
I know many others, including some very senior pastors and elders of different congregations here in Israel and back in the US have also tried to talk to these men, but they don’t listen to anyone. 
To be fair, with some notable exceptions, most of the other Christian Zionist outfits which operate in Israel haven’t been very sympathetic to or supportive of the local Body of Messiah either. In particular, they’ve been mostly neutral in their rare public comments on the current coalition and its agenda of Judicial Reform. Statements regarding the attacks against Christian gatherings, church buildings, etc. have also been kind of milk toast.
I would argue that when the Body of Messiah in Israel is under attack, milk toast neutrality isn’t an option for these Christian Zionists. As much as I disagree with Ha’Yovel’s position and the actions they’ve taken, I have to give them credit for taking a clear stance and sticking to it. In this context, Revelation 3:15-16 is relevant. 
‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Revelation 3:15-16 
Is that what you want Christian Zionists? To be vomited out of God’s mouth? If not, you better get moving, one way or another. Get off the fence and take a stand. 
That brings me to Tisha B’Av. 
I am, in fact, writing this blog on the evening of Tisha B’Av 2023, just a few days after the passage of the first Knesset bill in the Judicial Reform package. On this day, Itamar Ben Gvir went up on the Temple Mount, which he likes to do in order to assert Jewish sovereignty over the site. Predictably, this visit was condemned by all kinds of people, and, predictably, Ben Gvir let it be known that he doesn’t care who has a problem with anything he’s doing, or who his actions create problems for. 
But there was something rather unpredictable about this visit by Ben Gvir to the Temple Mount, and that is a group of Christian Zionists who went up there with him. The Christian participation in the Temple Mount visit might have included members of Ha’Yovel but it was led by Steve Wearp, one of the leaders of a group called the “Nations’ Ninth of Av initiative” which I had never heard of before. But the JPost article included a quote by Wearp that raised a lot of questions. 
“Our movement is about more than just saying, ‘I’m sorry,” he said. “The Nations’ Ninth of Av initiative is calling on Christians to change directions, to turn away from some of the doctrines, philosophies, and false teachings we’ve held.” 
I’m sure these false teachings he refers to include Replacement Theology, which of course should be rejected. But I wonder if they also include sharing the Gospel with Jewish people. Far too many Christian Zionists consider that to be a “false teaching” that needs to be done away with, and the tone of Wearp’s remarks, as well as some other things I saw about him online, make me think that might be where he’s at.
In any case, the article also quoted Wearp making excuses for recent violence against Believers by Orthodox Jews and it also said that on 2 August, his organization will be giving a sort of lifetime achievement award to Tommy Waller at a ceremony at the Israel Museum here in Jerusalem. 
Tommy, several people will congratulate you and Ha’Yovel on this award, and I congratulate you as well. You’ve certainly earned it, just like your predecessor earned the 30 pieces of silver he got for his act of betrayal. 
And so, gentle readers, now you know what the connection is between Purim and Tisha B’Av, at least for me personally. Events that occurred on Tisha B’Av 2023 close a circle that began with events that occurred on Purim 2008. 
If anything you’ve read here in this blog raises any questions or concerns for you, I encourage you to reach out to Tommy Waller, Zach Waller, Luke Hilton, and Steve Wearp to get your questions and concerns addressed. Their contact information can easily be found online. 
If you’ve got anything to say to me about what I’ve written here, that’s what the comments section is for.

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