“Today marks a milestone in the relationship of Christians and Jews in Israel.”
So began Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis as he addressed the varied audience that gathered at “Soldier’s House” in Haifa for the closing ceremony of the first-ever Summer Seminar for Arabic speaking Israeli Christian youth.
The audience was comprised of the 30 young participants, their parents, staff of the program and various leaders who had been involved in some way in the program.
“When I first came up with the idea for the program, I was modeling it on the Mechina pre-military programs that Jewish youth often attend during their gap year between high school and military service,” explains Sondra Oster Baras, director of CFOIC Heartland and initiator of the program.
“After a meeting with Father Gabriel Naddaf in his Nazareth home, I was able to gain a more profound understanding of the challenges facing this very special community of people,” she explained. “Arabic speaking Christians in Israel are not only a minority group in Israel but are a minority group within the much larger Muslim Arabic speaking population among whom they are living. So while leaders such as Father Naddaf are calling upon these young people to identify as Israelis and serve in the IDF, their educational framework is not giving them the tools they need to understand why they should be identifying in this way. Not only are they lacking in a solid understanding of Israeli history, they have never been given a framework in which to explore their Christian identity and how that relates to Israel.”
“Father Naddaf’s dream is to start a school but I figured, let’s start small. Let’s start with a summer program that we can implement right away,” she added.
And implement they did. Father Naddaf gave his blessing and Baras found the right people to implement these ideas. Danny Zamir, the chairman of the Association of Pre-Military Academies and head of the Rabin Mechina enthusiastically embraced the idea and arranged for a meeting at the Ministry of Defense.
Present at that initial meeting were Shadi Haloul, spokesperson for the Christian Enlistment Forum, Danny Zamir, Sondra Oster Baras and representatives of the Ministry of Defense. Enthusiasm was high and the plan went forward, ultimately receiving the blessing of and funding from the Prime Minister’s office.
At the ceremony, Akunis mentioned the horrific attacks by ISIS and other radical Muslim groups against Christians throughout the Middle East, underscoring the fact that only in Israel can Christians feel safe and enjoy complete democracy and freedom of religion.
Father Naddaf expressed his overwhelming feelings for the significance of the special day, noting that change can only happen when brave people take a stand. Father Naddaf is indeed a brave man, as he and his family have come under severe threats, and his son was even beaten up since going public in his Zionist call to action.
“You are all my children,” Father Naddaf said to the young participants in the program, encouraging them to serve in the IDF and become leaders of the Christian community in Israel.
“This is just the beginning,” Baras explained. “When I met with the young people in the program, they were so excited to learn about the work I am involved with connecting Christians all over the world with Israel. They want to be connected to Christian Zionists around the world. They need to feel part of an international Christian movement which is standing with Israel. And as Israeli citizens, they are uniquely placed to lead the next generation of Christians worldwide in coming closer to Israel.”
While Israel has no guarantee that Hamas will not rear its ugly head once agin, it is truly encouraging to see the Christian community of Israel gaining the courage to raise their voices. It is a community that is vital to Israel and it is anticipated that there will be additional programs and initiatives to strengthen this community of Israeli Christians.