An ardent advocate

Sondra Oster Baras, 56; From New York to Ra’anana, 1984, and Karnei Shomron, 1987.

Sondra Oster (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sondra Oster
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Many Israelis reach out overseas or travel abroad periodically to raise funds for organizations they represent. Though Sondra Oster Baras does this as well, her target audience consists entirely of Christians – as she has developed an international organization to garner Christian support for the Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria.
Baras grew up in Cleveland, Ohio; after high school, she spent her gap year at Jerusalem College for Women.
She received a bachelor’s degree in history and English from Barnard College, then a law degree from Columbia University.
It was natural for Baras and her husband, Edward, a computer programmer, to make aliya. Not only do both come from Orthodox Jewish backgrounds, but she was “eager to take part in the adventure of building up a renewed homeland for the Jewish people.”
They arrived in Ra’anana with two small children in 1984. Subsequently, three more children were born, now aged from 23 to 31. All live independently, working and studying, while the youngest is married with a child.
When Baras moved to the settlement of Karnei Shomron, a half-hour drive east of Kfar Saba, in 1987, the neighborhood they had selected, Ginot Shomron, was one large construction site. Karnei Shomron has since grown to around 7,500 residents.
A tax lawyer in the US, Baras switched over to family law in Israel. Although she never really enjoyed practicing law, her legal background is advantageous in her present job slot. “I am able to understand and convey legal issues that are relevant to the settlement movement,” she expounds.
Nowadays, Baras is founder and director of CFOIC Heartland (Christian Friends of Israeli Communities), which she describes as “a full-time-plus job and an enormous amount of work,” involving five or six overseas trips a year. Three two-week trips are usually to the US, and one to Australia and Asia. Once or twice a year, she schedules a five-day European trip.
Baras’s involvement in this venture began in 1988 during the first intifada, a troubled and dangerous time, “when foreign journalists were scrambling to interview any English-speaking ‘settler’ they could find.”
She promptly volunteered to fill this void and become a spokeswoman for residents of the settlements.
“Then, a Christian family suggested a very small initiative – to educate churches in the US about the settlement movement. I helped them implement this idea, though the thought of Christians was quite beyond my comfort zone at the time,” she explains. After this family asked Baras to take over the project in 1998, she set up the Christian Friends NGO.
She now has three part-time employees here, whereas the US office has a similar number of non-Jewish staffers. Overhead is low, typically 10 percent to 15%, and the organization funds many projects in Judea and Samaria. Donors may choose to buy security equipment, for example, to provide playgrounds and day-care centers for children, or to fund programming, dental care or heating for the aged.
At home in Israel, Baras often addresses Christian tour groups and helps schedule their visits to biblical sites such as Hebron, Shiloh and Mount Gerizim. She sends out regular emails to supporters and contacts all over the world. She enjoys studying and giving Bible classes, some in her home community, where she is very involved. Others, focusing on the Torah portion of the week, are delivered online to Christian audiences.
Not only is Baras a dynamic speaker, but her familiarity with the commentaries adds depth to her presentations.
“I love what I do,” she says, “but if you had asked me 30 years ago if I would have pictured myself where I am today, it would have been the furthest thing from my mind. For one thing, I knew nothing about Christian Zionists – had never heard of the term, and had never met one.”
Besides that, Baras was a lawyer and never thought she would change directions. “But I must say that I had long harbored a secret dream to advocate for Israel.
And it was that dream that I set out to fulfill, first as a volunteer doing interviews for the press in my own community.”
She often draws strength from her Christian connections.
“Through my work with the press and with Jews abroad,” she says, “in advocating and raising funds for the communities in Judea and Samaria, I encountered Christians whose passion for what I stood for often exceeded that of our most supportive Jews. And I never looked back. I truly believe I am doing something important for the Jewish people, for the State of Israel and for the future of Judea and Samaria.
“And I meet interesting people from all over the world who love Israel. It’s an amazing way to spend your time!”