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Christians, Jews in Holy Land alliance

  • Story Highlights
  • Orthodox Jew asks evangelical Christians to fund West Bank settlements
  • Florida church among supporters, writing checks and observing Jewish Sabbath
  • Poll found 59% of U.S. evangelicals believe Israel is fulfillment of prophecy
  • One rabbi raised $39 million last year from Christian Zionists for Israel
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Editor's note: This is part of a series of reports CNN.com is featuring from an upcoming, six-hour television event, "God's Warriors," hosted by CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

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Sondra Oster Baras: "Israel has many enemies. We have to take advantage of every single one of our friends."

MELBOURNE, Florida (CNN) -- Sondra Oster Baras is an Orthodox Jew doing an unorthodox job.

"If you had asked me 10 years ago what I would be doing with my life, I don't think I would have told you I'd be in church," she said.

Baras stumps for money from evangelical Christians to support Jewish settlements in the occupied territories -- land she calls biblical Israel.

A recent stop finds her in Melbourne, Florida, visiting Pastor Gary Christofaro at his First Assembly Church of God.

Christofaro and his flock take their Jewish roots so seriously that on Friday nights they observe the Jewish Sabbath with Hebrew prayers.

This is not just religious ritual. They support Israel -- which to them includes Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank. Church members tour settlements with Baras and have donated more than a $100,000 to support them.

"If it wasn't for what the Jews brought to Christianity, there would be no Christianity," Christofaro said. "There is a promise to those who bless Israel to be blessed. Those who curse it will be cursed."

Christofaro and Baras are part of a growing alliance between evangelical Christians and Israelis. Video Watch the bond between observant Jews and evangelical Christians »

A recent poll found that 59 percent of American evangelicals believe Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

God's Warriors
CNN's Christiane Amanpour examines the effects of Judaism, Islam and Christianity as a powerful political force around the world.
Watch Tuesday through Thursday, Aug. 21-23, at 9 p.m. ET

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 85 million evangelicals believe God tells them to support Israel -- more than six times the world's Jewish population.

One of the most successful Jewish fundraisers, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, raised $39 million last year from Christian Zionists to fund human services and humanitarian work in Israel and the settlements.

Christian Zionists often converge on Washington by the thousands to lobby members of Congress in support of Israel.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, was among the speakers at last month's convention of Christians United for Israel.

"There are a lot more Christian Zionists in America than Jewish Zionists," the former Democratic vice presidential candidate told the group. "The support of Christian Zionists today is critical to Israel's security and strength and to America's security and strength." Watch behind-the-scenes with CNN's Christiane Amanpour for the making of the TV special "God's Warriors" Video

Back in church, Baras told the congregation: "We need to stand together so that our governments will believe that the land of Israel, the entire land of Israel, belongs to the Jewish people."

Baras said God called her to this work. She left her high-powered, high-paid job as a Wall Street lawyer and moved to Israel in 1984.

"I was never fully American," she explained. "I was Jewish." Judaism was not only her religion but also her nationality.

"We learned how to read Hebrew before we learned how to read English," she said.

Her parents, who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, sent her to Zionist summer camps that championed the Jewish homeland.

"My parents felt very safe in America ... but there was always a part of them that said there needs to be an Israel in the event that we have another Hitler. Put it all together and I couldn't help but be a Zionist."

Baras moved her family to Karnei Shomron, a settlement deep inside the West Bank.

"Just by building my house ... I was strengthening the Jewish presence here in Samaria," she said, referring to a biblical name for the northern part of the West Bank.

In 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up inside a pizza parlor in her neighborhood, killing three children. She said she fought back by encouraging support from evangelical Christians in America.

"If we give any part of that land to the Arabs, we are looking at terrorism," she told a church audience.

Christofaro's Florida congregation responded with money -- all while singing a prayer for peace in perfect Hebrew.

Their money builds parks, child care centers and music therapy programs -- projects that make Jewish life in the settlements more comfortable. And more permanent.

"If you don't live somewhere, if you don't take possession of it, it is not yours," Baras said.

Some people say Jews and evangelical Christians make strange bedfellows, given historical anti-Semitism.

"Because of this doctrine of a Jew being a Christ-killer ... so much hatred and anti-Semitism has been propagated throughout the Earth," Christofaro said.

Now such historic anti-Semitism has given way to an urgent support of Israel among some evangelicals, many of whom believe that when Jews live in all of the Holy Land -- what they call Greater Israel -- only then will Christ return and true believers be raptured up to heaven.

"It is a controversial issue here in Israel as to whether we should be partnering with the Christians in any way," Baras said.

It's controversial in part because in the judgment day scenario embraced by some evangelicals, Jews who don't convert to Christianity burn in hell. But Baras said she isn't worried.

"I know that I'm not going to burn in hell because I didn't accept Jesus, because I don't believe Jesus is the Messiah," she said. "So how could I possibly be threatened?"

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Baras concedes the alliance between God's Jewish and Christian warriors may seem odd to some people. But if Baras is anything, she's practical.

"Israel has many enemies," she said. "We have to take advantage of every single one of our friends." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report, along with CNN producers Andy Segal, Jen Christensen and Steve Goldberg.

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