August 11, 2020
by Sondra Baras
A few weeks ago, we held our first annual CFOIC Heartland Conference of Judea and Samaria communities. This was a dream of mine for some time — to gather together in one room the representatives of all the communities we work with as well as the various mayors, to share experiences and ideas and just interact with one another.
While my staff and I all maintain very direct and close relationships with all of these people, there is something special about putting all of these people together in one room. And ironically, there is no other forum for this sort of gathering. The mayors do gather together but the volunteer leaders and administrators in the smaller communities never meet together with those beyond their immediate region. Only CFOIC Heartland has the ability to make these connections, but for some reason, until this year, we never thought about doing it.
We scheduled the conference for late July at a time when everything was starting to open up after the March / April shutdown due to the coronavirus. In May, the promise of an open summer seemed realistic and we were so optimistic. But by the time the date of the conference came around, we had to do the entire conference by zoom. Our first annual conference was virtual.
But it was an amazing success! Because zoom enables everyone to see one another, we had close to 60 people seeing one another on their screens and listening to each other talk. The focus of the conference was the difficult security situation that we all face here in Judea and Samaria and the mayors each shared their particular challenges. For the first time, the people of small communities in Judea were able to hear the mayors of their own area as well as mayors from Samaria discuss the challenges that they face. So much similarity and yet many differences as well.
The purpose of the conference was for all of us at CFOIC Heartland to gain a better understanding of the overall security picture so that we may turn to you, our wonderful donors, and ensure that we are indeed raising funds for the most critical needs and presenting the most accurate picture possible. But it also gave many communities in the Biblical heartland ideas of the sort of assistance they could obtain from CFOIC Heartland — for surveillance cameras, communications devices, Rapid Response Team Equipment and more.
But the highlight of the conference, for me at least, was the outpouring of thanks and appreciation that these community leaders from Biblical Israel expressed to us. And that thanks belongs to you! One woman, Etti, remembered the first time we came into her community of Shani Livnah and donated the funds they so desperately needed to create a lovely library and play center. We completed that project close to 20 years ago and yet she remembered it as if it was yesterday. And she kept repeating: “I couldn’t believe that people that we didn’t even know would care enough about our small little community to help us the way they did.”
And that was a theme that we heard over and over again. Here are just a few of the words of appreciation we heard that day:
- Mayor Yigal Lahav, Karnei Shomron: I don’t know any other organization that has the breadth of activity here in Judea and Samaria the way CFOIC does.
- Mayor Yossi Dagan, Samaria Regional Council: I want to thank all of our Christian friends through Sondra Baras and bless them for their incredible love of Israel. They have literally saved lives through their donations.
- Mayor Yochai Damri, Hebron Hills Regional Council: This is an opportunity to bless G-d for this amazing gathering and for this wonderful organization.
- Mayor Hananel Durani, Kedumim: For years CFOIC Heartland has helped us with so many things and especially in absorbing new immigrants from Ethiopia and with our senior citizens.
The final moments of the conference were dedicated to announcing extremely generous donations to many of the communities represented to help them with their most pressing security needs. We provided donations for surveillance cameras in 12 communities, communications devices in 2 communities, equipment for a rapid response team, an LPR (Licence Plate Reader) system, and rescue equipment. The communities were overwhelmed. Many literally had tears in their eyes because they knew that this equipment may well mean the difference between life and death for so many people.
I was there to receive their thanks, in Hebrew, and I was grateful beyond words for the small part I have played in helping to make this happen. But the thanks belong to you. You, our donors and friends, those who have given large amounts and those who have given so generously from a small income. Every cent counts. Every dollar, pound or Euro that you have given during these past few months, after you heard our call to help with the very real security needs of so many communities, has meant that a terrorist attack will be prevented before it can happen. You are saving lives and continue to save lives, as you respond to the calls for help that we pass on to you from all over Judea and Samaria.
And those calls keep coming. Dolev still needs funds to purchase the equipment they so desperately need and Leshem has just asked us for surveillance cameras. Not to mention the ongoing requests for libraries, senior citizens centers, needy families and so much more. But you have been there for us for more than 20 years. You have given the gift of life, the gift of meaningful living and the gift of joy to so many. Yes, the thanks belong to you. To all of you!