Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin: Yechiel Eckstein Was a Bridge to Evangelical Christians

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, addresses the landmark Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit during the Martin Luther King Day weekend. Photo courtesy of Phil Lewis/The Fellowship

American Jews like to argue over the nature of Christian evangelical support for Israel.

Many of those arguments center on Christians United for Israel — their political and theological agenda, and some of the more problematic pronouncements of its founder and executive director, Pastor John Hagee.

Forget CUFI, for a moment.

Let’s talk about another organization — the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Quite simply: this is an organization that reaches out to Christian evangelicals, and encourages them to support Jewish needs and the state of Israel. Rabbi Eckstein focused, specifically, on the need of poor Jews in Israel and in the former Soviet Union.

I first became truly aware of this group when I read this article in the Sunday New York Times magazine. I was fascinated, especially by its leader, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who has died at the age of 67.

I mourn him, and I pay tribute to his vision — and his menschlicheit.

In contrast to CUFI, Rabbi Eckstein’s organization has no political agenda.

Its purpose is clear: getting Christians to become part of the unfolding path of Jewish history, and to support Israel, financially and emotionally.

And what a story Yechiel told!

I will never forget his public dialogue with then-president of the URJ, Rabbi Eric Yoffie.

Yechiel told the story of Christian kids who ask their parents not to give them Christmas presents, but rather, to send the money instead to Israel.

Impressive. And, enviable.

As my colleague Rabbi Avraham Bronstein recently wrote about a sermon that Rabbi Eckstein gave at the Great Neck Synagogue. he quotes Rabbi Eckstein:

My name is Yechiel Eckstein, and I raise money from Christians for Jewish causes and the State of Israel. Over the last ten years [at the time of this sermon], I’ve raised well over one billion dollars — more than $100 million per year. My average donation is $20-something, and my office in Chicago receives many thousand donations per day.

As Rabbi Bronstein reported: “There were audible gasps in the sanctuary.”

Yes. Wow. Just, wow.

Wow — because when it comes to supporting Israel, many Christian evangelicals are eating our proverbial lunch.

They have surpassed the Jewish community in their support for Israel politically, emotionally and certainly financially.

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Source: Religion News Service