When Ari Met Shira
How it All Began (Part 2)
Ari acted in about 100 films and TV shows, like C.H.I.P.S., Hawaii Five-0, and the original Wonder Woman series. He played football in the NFL, competed in international track and field, and became a champion heavyweight boxer. But he left it all behind to pursue a radically different calling in Israel.
Ari was born in the U.S. to a Jewish immigrant family. As the story has been passed down, Ari’s mother, Tatyana, fled the pogroms in Russia (a massacre of Jews that took place at the beginning of the 20th century). She boarded a ship with a few members of her surviving family and attempted to move to the British-controlled Holy Land. Everyone on her boat was turned away, and she found herself headed to the United States, where she was granted citizenship. Somewhere on that fateful trip, she met Ari’s father, Hokano Sorko-Ram, a physician from India. Settling into Michigan, they married and had seven children. Ari was number six.
That’s about all we know, because when Ari turned two, his father left the family—never to be seen again. His mother, who was the only remaining thread holding things together, sustained a head injury and the family shattered.
Ari was too young to know why the decision was made, but while his six siblings were sent together to a place called Children’s Village, Ari was separated and sent elsewhere. So, from the tender age of two he was raised without a father, mother or siblings. Having no long-term relationships with any of the people from those early years, he has no idea who took care of him or where he was until at some point during grade school, he was moved to a boys’ boarding school.
Every summer all of the kids from his boys’ school would go home to their families, then return in the fall. However, Ari remained at school with the staff because he had no family to return to. He was treated well and was a model student, but summers were a lonely time. So, in the summer of his fifth grade year, he ran away. When the faculty tracked him down—not far from the school, they asked him why he ran away. He explained that he had simply never been off the property by himself, and was curious what was out there.
To address this issue, the following summer the staff found a summer camp for Ari to attend. While there, a young couple took a personal interest in him. He was very impacted by this as it was the first time anyone had taken an interest in him as an individual.
As they were saying their goodbyes at the end of the camp, the young couple told him how much they loved the Jewish people, and would be praying for him. This piqued a curiosity in Ari for the Bible, and during the following year, he spent time reading it.
It made sense to start in Genesis, but by the time he made it through several of the following books he was too discouraged to go on. He wanted to know God like this couple did, but the text was too difficult to understand. The following summer, when he saw the couple again at camp, he expressed his frustration at not being able to understand the Bible. The couple was happy to share the whole story with him and at the ripe age of 13, he began his journey with the Lord.
Life After School
During his senior year, his older brother who had recently married looked him up and invited him to move in and finish his final school year with them. In 1959, upon graduating, Ari enlisted in the army and served in NATO on special assignment. During his military service he ran track and field, won a light-heavy weight boxing championship and played in the French National Rugby League.
Upon leaving the military, he signed with an NFL football team, but within a year decided instead that he wanted to pursue a college education. He attended the University of Southern California studying psychology and behavioral research.
During graduate school, he was recruited by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department as he continued his studies in behavioral research. While serving in the Sheriff’s department he received an invitation to play the role of a detective in a Hollywood movie with Dean Martin.
At the time, Ari had no acting experience, but the director wanted someone with real-life experience. It being a detective role, Ari felt comfortable and played the role naturally. They loved it! And so, by sheer chance, Ari began his acting carrier with no audition.
While he acted in about 100 films and TV shows, like C.H.I.P.S., Hawaii Five-0, and the original Wonder Woman series, his role was always a clean one. He often took opportunities to share his testimony everywhere from public rallies to prisons.
Ari & Shira Met
In 1976, through mutual friends and Pastor Jack Hayford, Ari met a young Israeli-American film director named Shira Lindsay who was a Messianic Jew like himself. She had come to the States looking for Jewish believers who would be willing to move to Israel to help pioneer a Messianic beachhead in the land.
Ari had just signed a contract for a new TV series and had several commitments he couldn’t walk away from. But as he sought the Lord on whether to accept the challenge of moving to Israel for a year, He told God, “If you can take care of all these loose ends like getting me out of my film contracts, I’ll go check out the Holy Land.”
Within weeks, he was released from all his contracts; every loose end was tied up and he was on his way to Israel for a one-year visit. Before six months were up, Ari was so convinced he was staying that he took the cutest local girl he could find to a café in Jaffa overlooking the Mediterranean and proposed to her. They would build a Messianic community together.
Even before Ari and Shira were married, word got out to the local film industry that he was in the country and he was sent many offers for film roles. Even though he turned a number of them down, the films he did do turned out to be very helpful in funding their early years in the country. Over the next couple of decades, Ari appeared in several action movies as well as educational TV series designed to help Israelis learn English. As there were so few Israeli films during that time and basically one Israeli channel, Ari still occasionally has people walk up to him on the street who recognize him from their childhood.
Build A Community
For Ari and Shira, the first step towards building a Messianic community was to find a safe place where they could have meetings with music and singing without disturbing the neighbors. They rented a house in Herzliya, a suburb of Tel Aviv, and began their pioneering congregational plant. It would become the first Spirit-filled Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregation established in Israel in almost 2000 years.
Pioneering often sounds legendary in hindsight, but most of the early days of the congregation plant revolved around the logistics of getting people to the meeting place and back.
Few people had a car in those days, and buses didn’t run on the Sabbath. So, Ari made several trips to nearby towns before and after each service. A few times the congregants got around the no-buses issue by taking the bus on Friday and camping out in the yard with tents. Then they would wait to catch the first bus that began running after sunset Saturday night. It being the 70’s, the neighbors expressed concern that a “hippie” colony was moving into the area, and so the practice stopped.
One of those weekends, some from the group had planned to catch the evening bus, but the service lasted longer than usual. They missed that bus, and for that reason were not on the highway at the time and place where terrorists were driving up and down the highway in a hijacked bus spraying bullets. Thirty eight Israelis died and 71 were wounded from that attack.
At the beginning, the messages were given in English and translated into Hebrew. However, there were no Hebrew worship songs and so worship was done in English. Moving towards the goal of an all-Hebrew service, Ari and Shira pushed for the worship time to be only in Hebrew. They brought in their friends David and Lisa Loden who were quite happy to teach their newly-written Hebrew worship songs on the group (read their beautiful story in the June 2020 Maoz Israel Report).
If the move to restore Hebrew worship wasn’t so significant on a spiritual level, one could imagine the angels would have had good reason to chuckle at those early meetings. Israelis in the Tel Aviv area who knew Hebrew but knew nothing of worship outside of the traditional reciting from prayer books, were trying to sing together with westerners who had a lot of passion but knew little Hebrew!
Change and familiarity are funny things. Interestingly enough, some of the Israelis had a hard time with the Hebrew worship. They explained they felt a much deeper anointing by singing and praying in English than in Hebrew! So you can imagine those early services were quite a sight—and quite a sound!
Despite the logistical challenges, Ari and Shira’s small gatherings quickly grew to about 70 people. But the majority of the attendants were volunteers from abroad who would instinctively speak in their mother tongue during times of fellowship, making it difficult for the Israelis to engage.
As the vision was to have a completely Hebrew-speaking congregation, it was time to take the final plunge. Ari gave the congregants a two-week notice that the message—and worship—would be in Hebrew with an English translation in the back. Within two weeks the number of attendants dropped to a mere dozen.
For the energy in the service, it was a dramatic change. But that was when they really began to build an Israeli congregation.
To be continued next month…
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Read more from this issue
Two Choices that Mattered Most
By Shani Sorko-Ram Ferguson, as told by Evan LevineCurrently reading
When Ari Met Shira
How it All Began (Part 2)
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