Anyone who has ever visited “Ach Sheli Gibor” knows that it is a special place. Hebrew for “my brother, the hero”, Ach Sheli Gibor is a sandwich shop-minimartrest stop all rolled into one. Located at the junction between Shechem and the community of Itamar, the stop is decorated with flags, army hats, tags and memorabilia and is furnished with couches and a television, giving soldiers a comfortable place to hang out during their time off from the adjacent army base. Soldiers and tourists alike can expect to be warmly greeted by the friendly owner, Oren Gilad. Despite the perpetual smile on Oren’s face, life has not always been easy for him. His story begins in Afula where he was born in 1973. Oren’s father taught physical education and his mother worked as a cook in a school cafeteria. In the winter of 1986, after befriending Gershon Mesika, one of the original pioneers of the settlement movement, the Gilad family visited Mesika’s hometown of Elon Moreh. Inspired by their visit, and guided by their faith in God and His Bible, they decided to move to Elon Moreh the following summer
In 1992, Oren began his army service in the elite Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. As a soldier he traveled all over the country and it was during this time that he first noticed the lack of rest stops for soldiers. He dreamed that one day he would open a welcoming place for soldiers, a place where soldiers could visit, relax and feel at home, a place where they would be greeted with an appreciative smile, a positive word, a “how are you?” or “Shabbat Shalom”. He dreamt of opening a place he wished he had had as a soldier.
It was a summer night in 1995 that changed his life forever. Oren was home on a routine break from the army when he and a friend decided to drive from Elon Moreh to Netanya. As they passed Shechem, they noticed a group of Arabs standing in the middle of the road. Trying not to hit the Arabs, the pair swerved, crashing into a ditch. As it were, the Arabs had purposely stood on the road waiting for a Jewish car to fall into their trap so that they could quickly surround the car and lynch the people inside. Oren immediately understood what was happening and responded quickly, shooting his rifle in the air. He managed to successfully frighten away the terrorists; unfortunately, nearby IDF forces heard the gunshots and thinking it was a terrorist shooting, shot Oren in the leg.
Oren’s leg was permanently damaged in the terrifying incident, making him unfit to continue his service in a combat unit. After recovering from his wound, he was honorably discharged. Devastated, Oren spent three years in San Diego, California where he worked at a 99 cent store. It was there that Oren learned the nuts and bolts of running a business and the importance of customer service. Returning to Israel in 1998, Oren bought a minimart in the Samaria community of Maale Levonah. He had planned to open a clothing shop, but his plans changed with the outbreak of the second intifada. Remembering his dream as a soldier years earlier, Oren bought the rights to Ach Sheli Gibor.
Ach Sheli Gibor was originally established by parents who had lost their child during the first Intifada. In 1987, 8-year-old Rami Chaba was kidnapped from his home in Elon Moreh and brutally murdered by Arab terrorists in a cave just outside the community. After the tragedy, the Israeli Government gave his family a shipping container in which they could set up a store, to help them earn a living. They named the store Ach Sheli Gibor. Sadly, the family never recovered from the loss, and was forced to sell the shop. On November 15, 2000 Oren re-opened the store and has been in business ever since.
Over the years, hundreds of CFOIC Heartland groups have visited Ach Sheli Gibor. They have left wonderful souvenirs including American army mementos, and a beautiful sketch which says “Masada will not fall again”. One customer bought 200 Israeli flags and another gave Oren $500 to treat the soldiers to sandwiches. Each and every time a group comes Oren is so appreciative. His message to them is simple: “I’m so happy you come to see what it’s like here with your own eyes. The media will tell you one thing, but when you come you see that the people here just want to raise their families and live in peace.”
At the age of 37 Oren was seemingly content. He was living in Samaria, and owned a successful business. He had experienced ups and downs and yet he had done everything he had set out to do in life. He had left religious practice some years earlier, but that changed when he began thinking about his faith in a more serious way and asking existential questions about the world and his purpose in it. He flew to the grave of a famous Rabbi in the Ukraine to look for answers. Soon after, he returned to his faith and decided to start actively looking for a wife.
That year Oren met Racheli. She was the daughter of old family friends. On their first phone conversation Oren confidently told her “you are going to be my wife and we are going to have 10 children.” She thought he was nuts, but they met in person a week later. Three weeks later Oren invited Racheli to attend an appearance he was making on an Israeli cooking show. He surprised her by calling her to join him on stage and proposing marriage in front of the audience. Shocked, Racheli said yes, and they married that summer.
Today Oren and Racheli live in the Samaria city of Ariel. They are parents to three beautiful children: 5 year old Peleg, 3 and half year old Afik and 3 month old Nahal. Each of their children’s names is somehow connected to water, symbolizing the importance of the next generation. “My name, Oren, means pine tree. Just as a tree cannot grow without water, we cannot grow and flourish as a people without the next generation.”