Jewneric recently had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who currently dedicates his time and energies to The International Fellowship for Christians and Jews (IFCJ) â€“ Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Partnership for Children in the Former Soviet Union, committed to ensuring the well-being of tens of thousands of Jewish children in that area. The group also responds to emergencies and crisis all over the world.
Rabbi Eckstein has devoted the past 30 years to building bridges of understanding and active cooperation between Christians and Jews. An Orthodox rabbi, he has helped hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world discover and understand the Jewish roots of their faith. In 1983, Rabbi Eckstein founded The Fellowship to give Christians the opportunity to meaningfully express their support for Israel and promote the well-being of Jews in Israel and around the world. In 2005, Rabbi Eckstein was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of the State of Israel, with special emphasis on Israelâ€™s relationships with Christian communities in Latin America.
1. All organizations should be addressing a problem in the community. What is that exact problem and how are you solving it?
Weâ€™re enhancing Israelâ€™s security and the welfare of its citizens and helping Jews in need around the world, especially the elderly, Holocaust survivors, and children. Weâ€™re also promoting greater tolerance, understanding and cooperation between Jews and evangelical Christians, trying to reverse that spirit of distrust and intolerance that has existed for millennia between members of these two faiths. And I think weâ€™re succeeding.
2. You could be doing so many other things in the world. What about this particular idea strikes you?
I believe that everyone has a calling in life. This is my calling â€“ every day I pray that God will help me to help Israel and the Jewish people, and to make the world a better place, a more peaceful place. Every day I try to ask myself, â€œHow can I be a faithful servant of God, and be obedient to His calling in my life?â€
3. What organizations or people do you look to for inspiration?
Honestly, I canâ€™t think of any organizations that particularly inspire me. The people who have deeply touched my life are Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, my rebbe, Rabbi Nissan Alpert z”l, Senator Joe Lieberman and Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, and many friends, both Christians and Jews, who are smarter than I and of deeper faith, spirituality, and learnedness.
4. What is the biggest issue facing the Jewish Community today and how would you deal with it?
There are two. In Israel, the greatest issue is the threat of Iran and the rise of Islamic terrorism. I wonâ€™t propose a political solution for this problem. But on a personal level, there is a great need for education. Many people simply donâ€™t know that Israel faces a daily threat from Islamic terrorism, or that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has issued such outrageous threats against Israel. We try to keep people informed. I remember that recently we directed people to a page on our website with quotes from Ahamdinejad â€“ no commentary, just his own words, with the depth of his hatred for Israel, Jews, and the U.S. on full display. The response we had from people saying, â€œI had no idea he said that!â€ was really astonishing.
In the U.S., the biggest problems facing the Jewish community are assimilation, and the loss of Jewish and Zionist identity. The key here is education, so that Jewish children understand fully the richness of their Jewish faith and heritage. The Jewish community has to support more free Jewish day schools and summer camps, as well as programs such as Birthright that allow young Jews to visit Israel. There also has to be a thrust for supporting aliyah.
5. If one Jewish leader could come back and take a role in strengthening the Jewish community today, who would it be?
Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach.
6. What is the most exciting Jewish project you have encountered in the past two years?
Itâ€™s our own, which is reaching out to Israel and the Jewish community, and helping them to view evangelical Christians as strategic partners in promoting peace and security for Israel and supporting poor Jews around the world.
7. What is your favorite part of your job?
There are two things â€“ first, hearing from Christian donors who are giving sacrificially, out of love, to support Israel and the Jewish people. Their faith and dedication is really an inspiration. Second would have to be meeting the people we have helped, seeing how the work we do day in and day out has truly made a tangible difference in the lives of people.
8. What do you feel are your biggest challenges?
Overcoming the stereotypes and prejudices that some Jews have towards Christians. Weâ€™ve made great progress in this area over the years, but there is still work to be done.
9. What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?
Iâ€™ve always been moved by what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, that faith must precede inter-faith â€“ meaning that before we can have meaningful and fruitful dialogue and relationships with those of other faiths, we must be firm in our own faith. It is important for future leaders to have faith in God. From that will come a deep and abiding concern for the welfare and security of the Jewish people, and a desire to be a part of the State of Israel and to provide for its future.