Oil Tycoon Cashes In on Spiritual Dividends in Jerusalem
Amongst the famous names in Israel rubbing elbows at a cocktail reception launching the 6th annual Jerusalem Conference on January 26, Israel National Radio's Yishai Fleisher spoke with oil magnate and philanthropist Guma Aguiar, the chairman of this year's conference, about using his personal gain in order to transform the Jewish dream into a reality, and using discoveries which changed his life and the lives of thousands of Jews throughout Israel.
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"The dream that our parents, grandparents, and great-great grandparents had… it begins with a profound trust in G-d and is accomplished by gathering the Jewish people from the Diaspora to their homeland," Aguiar told Fleisher, in a joint interview broadcast on Israel National News TV and Israel National Radio. "Unless we have the dream of having a Temple that we would be able to serve our G-d with all of the [commandments], then ultimately, what are we doing here in Israel? That's the reason why my family came to the Holy Land. That's the reason why all our forefathers longed set foot in Israel. Based on my studying of our Hebrew scriptures, it is clear to me that our focus must be focused on sacred matters here in Israel. This inspiring endeavor will strengthen the Jewish state and, please G-d, hasten the redemption."
Aguiar has come a long way toward these understandings. Despite having been born Jewish, Aguiar was raised as an Evangelical Christian, encouraged to participate in Christian youth groups and church events throughout his young life. At the age of 26, Aguiar moved to Houston, Texas with the determination to find oil beneath the soil. Seeking out a Christian congregation to join, he encountered Rabbi Tovia Singer who has devoted his life to helping Jews in the church return back to the truth and beauty of the Jewish faith. Rabbi Singer is the founder of Outreach Judaism and popular talk show host on Israel National Radio.
"Initially, when I first heard about Rabbi Singer's efforts I thought that he must be some sort of anti-Christ, and I was really upset about his mission. So I decided to call him and argue with him. As a devout Christian, I couldn't fathom why he was doing this work! I asked him "What are you doing? You're trying to pull Jews out of the church? That's the worst thing you could possibly do," I argued. "Within 5 minutes of talking to Tovia, he entirely disassembled my entire belief system, and all the pieces of the puzzle came together within that first conversation. I repented during that first conversation, and I returned immediately to my true heritage, the Jewish faith."
His revelation came at a price, however. Soon, his relationship with his family and friends began to crumble. "It was a disaster. My whole life went up in flames," Aguiar said. Yet after some time and discussion, things miraculously began to turn around. "Little by little, I was able to talk to them, and we started to build up a relationship," Aguiar said. "After asking certain questions…. My whole family did teshuva (repented), they've all made aliyah; and they're all living in Jerusalem now. It's a miracle, it's an absolute miracle, so I've dedicated my life to helping other people also find the truth." He has become a strong backer of Rabbi Singer's Outreach Judaism organization, encouraging Christians to "be really honest with themselves", and to understand that they can worship the G-d of Israel, "without any son or intermediary."
Aguiar, who is now known in Israel by his Hebrew name, Yehuda David, attributes his quest for spiritual truth with the blessing of discovering natural gas near Houston – one of the largest natural gas discoveries in North America in the last few decades through his company Leor Energy. In November 2007, the company sold its natural gas holdings for $2.55 billion, and Aguiar has become a generous philanthropist who now supports many vital Jewish organizations throughout Israel.
"How is it possible that I could have pinpointed this one massive discovery that nobody else had ever seen, two hours away from Houston?" Aguiar asked. "I had to be honest with myself. I quickly grasped that my shocking success was not due to a stroke of good luck. Only G-d could have blessed me with this remarkable discovery, and so now, I have to turn around and say - what can I do to bless G-d? What can I do to be His servant, His vessel, and repay Him for His manifold blessing and guidance?"
With this awareness in mind, Aguiar diversified his investment throughout the Land of Israel, providing financial support for rabbis, yeshivas, Jewish outreach and heritage organizations, and recently become a major backer of Nefesh b'Nefesh, an organization which assists North American and British Jews to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel). Aguiar became NbN's Chairman of Finance in 2008, after donating $8 million to the organization, money which Co-Founder and Chairman of NBN Tony Gelbart described as "vital" to record-breaking numbers of immigrants who have received NbN assistance.
Aguiar called his participation in helping Jews move to Israel "a truly sacred task," adding "There is no greater priority for the Jewish people or Israel than strengthening immigration from the US, Canada and the UK."
In 2008, Aguiar was named "Top Industry Executive of 2008" by Oil & Gas Investor Magazine, a distinction which brought with it many offers to head up companies, major public energy conglomerations, and even political positions. Yet instead of pursuing more wealth and prestige in America, Aguiar packed his bags and came to Israel. "In the beginning of 2008, after the sale of Leor's assets, I immediately decided to pack up 42 bags worth of luggage, came over here with my wife and family, and haven't left…I made aliyah in my mind a long time ago." Aguiar told Fleisher. "In terms of my career, I said "that's enough." I knew that G-d had given me what I needed to accomplish, and I was now in a unique position to make a meaningful difference, and that was the time that I left, and I didn't come back [to America]…. I decided to come here and just be a servant of G-d and do whatever possible for my nation."
Since moving to Israel, Aguiar has become increasingly involved in philanthropy throughout Israel and especially in Jerusalem. "I came to the conclusion – G-d has really put me in a position like Esther was in," Guma said. "I could do two things: I could either take my money that G-d has given me, and concluded that 'I'm so smart – my striking success was all because of me, I'm so great, I'm so brilliant'… or I could ultimately recognize this whole thing from start to finish was the result of G-d's blessings. I recognized the truth. I understood that I was bestowed with this success in order to serve the Almighty. G-d has protected and guided me all along the way, and He'll continue, because I have only one agenda, and that's to be His servant."
"You took shares in the G-d Company", Fleisher joked to Aguiar. "That's right," Aguiar said. "I invested in Jerusalem… I'm willing to take that investment and pass it on to my children and my children's children. That will be the most important investment, the biggest return on my capital, of any investment that I could have ever made."
The energy Aguiar is most focused on now is the one that he says he senses on the Temple Mount, the site of two destroyed Temples, and the place he says he hopes to witness the building of the third and final Temple.
"This is the core belief and dream of the Jewish people, I didn't make this up," Aguiar said. "If you're going to argue with me about this, now you've got to argue with Ezekiel, you've got to argue with Isaiah, you've got to argue with Daniel. I just look at them as an example, I listen to Jacob, I look at Abraham – they're the ones who found it, not me. Isaiah and Zechariah promises that the Torah will go forth from the Zion [the Temple], and all the nations of the world will know that there's one G-d, the G-d of Israel. Please G-d, I will merit to witness this final redemption quickly in our time."