Sondra Oster Baras
Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC Heartland)
Karnei Shomron, Israel
What is the main focus of your activities today?
Linking Christians to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and promoting Christian Jewish understanding.
How long have you been doing that?
Full time more than 22 years. Part time for several years before that.
What are some of the successful related programs or projects that you have done this year and in past years?
Regular Bible teaching, emails, letters to Christians all over the world, tours to Israel and in Judea and Samaria, traveling and bringing these messages to Christian audiences abroad.
How did you get to where you are today?
I was an advocate for Judea and Samaria for many years and in 1993 first met Christians who supported our cause. I founded CFOIC Heartland 22 years ago but the idea came from Christian Zionists. We have been growing the organization and our work ever since.
What is your “testimony”?
I was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Cleveland, Ohio, in the USA. From a very young age, Bible, G-d and Jewish life and customs were central to my upbringing. I learned to read Hebrew before I learned to read English, even though English is my native language, because my parents and teachers wanted the Bible and the Jewish prayer book to be the first book we could read.
I grew up with a strong sense of my history, from the Bible to the present. When I reach Genesis 12 and discovered G-d’s promise to Abraham of a nation who would inherit the Land of Israel, that was a promise made to my forefather and promising that land to me, his descendant. As I got older and learned more about the modern State of Israel and Zionism, it was clear to me that I had to make my home in Israel. G-d was calling His people back home and how could I possibly turn down that amazing invitation?
I was very active in Zionist youth activities in high school and college. Just after graduating college I married Edward and we were in total agreement that we needed to make Aliyah. We moved to Israel in 1984 and immediately signed a contract to build a home in a new neighborhood of Karnei Shomron. We moved into our new home in 1987.
When the first Intifada began, I was thrust into advocating for the settlement movement as international interest in the movement grew and, at the same time, there was a desperate need in Israel for “settlers” to articulate our vision in English. I did interviews, met with dignitaries and politicians and communicated in any way I could the importance of our movement and our claim to this land. Here and there I met Christians who supported our right to this land but it was a rare occurrence. But in 1997, I was asked by a Christian acquaintance to start an organization that, like its many Jewish counterparts, would advocate for the settlement movement and raise funds for vital needs in the communities that were largely boycotted by other Israel-oriented philanthropies. But unlike its Jewish counterparts, this organization would be aimed exclusively at Christians.
And so began what became my life’s work – the creation and leadership of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities. What began as a passion for the communities, became an equal passion for creating meaningful relationships with Christians who could and would stand with Israel or who were interested in understanding Judaism in a deeper way. In addition to discussing the issues surrounding the settlement movement, which draw their inspiration and justification from the Bible, I began teaching Bible to Christians, engaging in meaningful discussions about our respective faiths and founding ways to build the bridge that would turn our alliance into something truly powerful. And all for the benefit of Israel.
Today, 22 years after I first founded CFOIC, I can look back with pride at all that has happened since. The many Christians who have joined us in our work, the many Jews who have joined us in reaching out to Christians in an effort to strengthen and develop our alliance. Media in Israel and all over the world are paying attention to what we are doing. And I believe G-d is blessing our efforts every single day.
What do you think God is doing with regard to Jewish-Christian relations?