Bio - Rabbi Ilan Sharon, Jewish Liaison and MC

Rabbi Ilan Sharon, Jewish Liaison and MC
2023 Night for Israel

About Rabbi Ilan Sharon:

Short bio:

Rabbi Ilan Sharon, a son of Jewish refugees from Libya and Egypt, was born and raised in Haifa, Israel.

He served in the Israeli Defense Forces for six years as an officer and finished his service ranked Captain. Ilan received an IDF military acknowledgment (“decoration”) for his service in the first Lebanon War (Operation Peace for Galilee).

Following his military service, he started a software company in Israel that later merged with a Minneapolis-based company. 

Ilan frequently speaks on Israel, the Jewish people, the struggle for peace in the Middle East, and Jewish-Christian relationships. He presented to thousands of people at various conferences, High Schools, Colleges, Churches, Synagogues, and home groups.

Ilan participated in the production of several films. For over 25 years, he was interviewed and appeared on various TV broadcasts and Radio talk shows.

Ilan holds leadership positions in organizations that focus on Jewish-Christian relationships and pro-Israel organizations, and he is a board member of a few of those organizations. He is a co-founder, and a board member of a K-8 public charter school is Edina, MN.

Ilan was awarded the Minneapolis Jewish Federation Young Leadership Award in 2004. He graduated from rabbinical school in 2022 and received a Smicha from the Beit Din of the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute.

Ilan has two daughters, one of which resides in Israel, and he has two grandchildren in Israel.

Full bio:

Don’t try to pigeonhole Ilan Sharon. He’s a sought-after speaker, a filmmaker, and a champion of the Jewish people. He’s also a military veteran, a tech success story, and a former CEO. This Israeli-born Jew is also the son of two Arabs, since his father was born in Egypt and his mother is from Libya. In fact, Ilan can track his ancestors back to Portugal 500 years ago. To escape persecution during the Spanish inquisition, his mom’s family crossed to North Africa. Future generations would face more persecution in their adopted homeland. In Libya, Sharon’s grandpa lost his business during World War II and was sent to a Nazi labor camp. He survived the holocaust, as did an uncle who emerged from the death camps after losing his family in the ghettos, but the experiences and heritage would go on to impact Ilan’s life and work.

Raised in Haifa by his mom after losing his dad at age five, he served six years in the Israeli Defense Forces, reaching the rank of Captain and completing tours that included Gaza and the first Lebanon War. Following his military service, he started a software company in Israel that later merged with a Minneapolis-based firm. That partnership brought him to the U.S. in the early 1990s and he was quickly named CEO.

As the new millennium was dawning, Ilan felt the pull to make a change. In 2000, he decided to take a two-year break to focus on several Israel-related projects. The timing of that break was fateful. After the breakdown of the Oslo peace process and then the September 11 attacks on the U.S., Ilan became a sought-after speaker on the topics of terrorism, Israel, and the Middle East. That was two decades ago, and that break has since become his permanent calling.

He couldn’t have imagined that he would soon be doing this work alongside some unlikely allies. Even though he was now living in the United States, Ilan admits he brought some biases with him from his homeland. Limited news coverage in Israel made it easy to believe that nobody really understood the plight of the Jewish people in the land of Israel and the whole world was against them. In the 1930s and ‘40s, Minneapolis had the dubious distinction of being one of the most anti-Semitic cities in America, and while progress had been made by the time Ilan arrived, several anti-Semitic incidents he experienced only seemed to support his belief that Christians were part of the problem, not the solution.

It was during a meeting held by the Jewish community to discuss Israel that Ilan’s views were challenged. One of the attendees was a Christian woman. Skeptical of her motives, he boldly approached her to question her interest in the topic. Her respectful answer surprised him. Soon, he was eavesdropping on a guest minister at a local Christian megachurch. This expert on Jews and Christians knew about the history of anti-Semitism in the area and spoke out against it. Ilan quickly recognized how someone with her credentials was able to reach that audience in ways he couldn’t. He also began to see that there are a lot of Christians who respect Israel and honor the Jewish people.

“We don’t agree on everything, but they have become my closest friends,” Ilan explains. While he is still involved with the Jewish community, these days much of his work is in partnership with the Christian community.

Even before the September 11 attacks sent America reeling, Ilan was reviewing footage of what was being said in the Arab and Palestinian world in Arabic and comparing that to the message they were delivering to the outside world. The difference was stark.

“They hate America as much as they hate Israel – they just don’t say it in English,” Ilan warned. His expertise on these topics landed him meetings with congressmen and senators, despite his outdated VHS technology. He knew it was crucial to share as much information as possible in a short amount of time, so he refined his presentation and moved it to a streamlined laptop and CD. As word spread, so did demand. Ilan produced 20,000 copies of his homemade CD and shared them for free. One landed in the hands of a man with a background in moviemaking, and the next phase of Ilan’s ventures began.

Teaming up, Ilan and the filmmaker created a documentary that allowed Ilan to present the information he was already sharing about the conflict and peace process. A team meeting in New York, following the first documentary, brought new inspiration. Several notable names were tackling the topic of anti-Semitism, but what was missing just after 9-11 was someone making the connection between anti-Semitism and how that same hatred was directed at Americans and Christians.

“At the time, over 90% of the groups on the official U.S. terror list described themselves as Muslim organizations. Don’t you think there’s a problem here?” Ilan questioned. “We need to do a film about the threat of radical Islam.”

The result was Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. There have been 28 million copies distributed and it received a full-hour special on Fox as well as expanded coverage on CNN and other media outlets around the world. Films like The Third Jihad and Iranium (exploring the threat of a nuclear Iran) followed. While some critics have used the term “Islamophobic” in reference to the message of these films, Ilan counters that much of the focus is on simply showing existing footage and translating what is being said. Additional documentary titles that Ilan has been instrumental in producing include Honor Diaries, on the topic of women’s rights, and Faithkeepers, which offers a look at persecution of Christians minorities.

“This is a project that was very dear to me,” Ilan adds. “Christians aren’t seen as minorities in America and Europe and yet they are a minority in many countries in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity. They’re being persecuted and literally disappearing. It was my way to show my Christian friends who were helping me that it was for them.”

Today, Ilan’s schedule remains full. He currently holds leadership positions in organizations that focus on Jewish-Christian relationships and pro-Israel organizations, and he is a board member of a few of those organizations. He works closely with Praise Him Ministries, hosting Seder dinners, a Night for Israel, and virtual teachings. Then there’s the Jewish and Christian Library and Center, and Ilan helped found a charter school focused on teaching American values, the Hebrew language, and virtues like gratitude and fortitude. He’s also working with a holocaust survivor’s widow to translate her husband’s story from Hebrew into English. While not a publishing expert by any means, he was unable to bear the thought of the story dying, so he has been championing the project with the help of others.

The year 2020 impacted the way he worked as well. As Ilan began doing more virtual meetings and events, he knew he’d have to switch things up. He started using video, quizzes — even creating a game shows for participants, complete with leaderboard — to provide an engaging format that keeps people coming back. And the interactive experience helps get the message across.

Ilan graduated from rabbinical school in 2022 and received a Smicha from the Beit Din of the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute.

His ancestors would no doubt be proud of how Ilan Sharon has carried their story forward, respecting his heritage and advocating for his people, while finding new allies along the way. The medium has changed, but the message is as old as his homeland. “A lot of the big Christian ideas are from Jewish ideas,” Ilan muses. “The prophets in the Bible that are so often quoted are Jewish.”