There is nothing quite like walking down the gangway to or from an El Al plane at Ben Gurion airport and seeing poster after poster lining the passage, touting the work of the International Fellowship of Christians & Jews — with a larger-than-life photo of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in nearly every one.
My daughters and I have joked for years that we were so surprised to see those posters after each trip any of us took to Israel. Because I have known Yechiel for over 25 years — since the early days of the Fellowship, when he lived in Chicago and we would often meet when he visited New York. Even though I shared his critics’ reservations about accepting millions of dollars from evangelical Christians, whose motivation was, Yechiel insisted, just to follow the passage in Genesis in which God tells Abraham “I will bless those who bless you,” thinking that they were doing so for their own eschatological and geo-political beliefs, I was very fond of him.
Since he began the Fellowship in 1983 Eckstein and his organization raised more than 1.6 billion – with a B – dollars, according to a statement the group sent out today after its founder died of apparent cardiac arrest, at age 67, in his home in Jerusalem.
He was as excited as a schoolboy while he planned to make aliyah, which he did in 1999. I remember meeting with him in the offices of JTA, where I then worked, and being charmed and touched by his heartfelt enthusiasm. For Yechiel, who was an ordained Orthodox rabbi, it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
I watched his organization grow from start up to behemoth, as his — perhaps justified — sense of importance — grew alongside. But somehow, it always seemed to me, his unbridled enthusiasm for his work made him a charming guy with a down-to-earth quality that never disappeared.
Now, with Yechiel gone, his daughter Yael, who is already the Fellowship’s global executive vice president, is expected to continue his work.
Yechiel pioneered raising money from Christians for the benefit of Jews, with late-night television commercials that still seem ubiquitous if you turn on late-night television and played constantly on Christian radio stations. In his marketing the Fellowship Jews are poor and needy – he asks for his Christian viewers’ donations to support elderly Holocaust survivors and those living in the former Soviet Union. His Jews are not brawny sabras IDF veterans or startup geniuses creating tech to sell to one of the world’s major app or software companies. The Jews in his marketing are babushka-clad wizened old people freezing in the former Soviet Union. You can see his TV ad here.
He was the face of Jewry to much of the American evangelical Christian community – the only Jewish figure some would ever “meet,” through his television ads and appearances on the Christian Broadcasting Network. And he cut an appealing figure, with a combination of boyish looks and sincerity. The Fellowship’s website includes all sorts of educational material for Christians, about Jewish holidays, the Holocaust and angels.
Yechiel had the unique ability to bridge the Jewish and evangelical worlds, because he spoke the language of both. He would move easily from talking about a sense of being called to bless others, to using that combination of Hebrew and English slang specific to Anglo immigrants to Israel while expressing frustration with Jerusalem’s municipality, for instance.
Yechiel was funding the Aliyah of more immigrants than even the Jewish Agency was, at one point, and he wanted recognition that the Israeli establishment was loath to give. So he ended up breaking away and starting his own aliyah program, at times filling planes with new immigrants.
When I visited Yechiel with my daughter just over a year ago at the Fellowship’s HQ in Jerusalem, he was eager to tell me about the many programs his work was funding around Israel as well as in the FSU – ranging from soup kitchens to day activity programs for poor senior citizens and the disabled just across the street from his office. He would regularly go to give hands-on help at that center, he said.
For all my unease with Yechiel’s closeness to people like Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. John Hagee, whose views on things like abortion and the civil rights of minority groups, as well as Israel’s hoped-for peace process, are in diametrical opposition to mine and those of most other American Jews, I could not help but be impressed with the work he was doing funding programs for the needy that even Israel’s own government was not.
Within minutes of meeting my daughter he had given us two autographed copies of his biography and offered Aliza, who was in Jerusalem for a gap year between high school and college, an interesting-sounding internship. That was Yechiel – both his ego and his generosity could be on display in the same moment.
Yechiel was larger than life — he had tremendous and enthusiastic energy for his work and a sincere belief that he was repairing the world. And even though I felt uneasy about the motivation and influence of some of the people he considered his closest allies in the work, one thing was clear to me: he was.
He will be missed.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen writes from New York for Haaretz and is a contributing editor at The Forward.
BDS movement founder Omar Barghouti (YouTube)
Omar Barghouti, founder and leader of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, was denied entry to the United States on Wednesday.
He was informed by airline staff at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel that U.S. immigration officials told the American consul in Tel Aviv to block him from boarding the flight.
A State Department official told NPR, “Visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases.”
The US Capitol Building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Four of Israel’s most dedicated supporters in the US Congress on Friday expressed concern that the Jewish state may annex the West Bank, as results from Israel’s election earlier this week confirmed the likelihood of a right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“As strong, life-long supporters of Israel, a U.S.-Israel relationship rooted in our shared values, and the two-state solution, we are greatly concerned by the possibility of Israel taking unilateral steps to annex the West Bank,” said a joint statement from Democratic representatives Eliot Engel (NY), Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs,
The final image sent by Israeli spacecraft Beresheet before it crash-landed on the moon. Photo: courtesy of Space IL.
Astronauts and scientists at the US space agency NASA commended the Israeli non-profit organization SpaceIL for its efforts afyer its spacecraft “Beresheet” failed to land safely on the moon on Thursday.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “While NASA regrets the end of the SpaceIL mission without a successful lunar landing of the Beresheet lander, we congratulate SpaceIL, the Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the incredible accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit.”
“Der ewige Jude” – “Theeternal Jew” movie poster . (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
The lead article Thursday on the opinion page of the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the 1940 Nazi antisemitic movie The Eternal Jew.
The article was titled in the paper “The Eternal Netanyahu” in a word play in connection with director Fritz Hippler’s antisemitic pseudo-documentary, based on the medieval legend of the wandering Jew, that served as a cinematographic justification for the Holocaust.
As an orthopedic surgeon for 30 years in Washington, D.C. I see patients from all over the world and from every walk of life and what has become clear to me is that everyone is fundamentally the same. As a rule, I shy away from political or religious discussions with my patients as they have no bearing on their care. But occasionally, the discussions are thrust on me.
Several years ago I treated a professor of political science from a local university and had established a good rapport with him. On his last visit before saying goodbye he popped a question.
It is well-known by some and wholly ignored by others that Islam has a long, sad history of antisemitism, a bigotry that originated in the seventh century CE (the first Islamic century) and has grown more vicious in the 21st. Combined with an almost universal anti-Zionism and bolstered by many on the political “left”, it is today the most ubiquitous and deadliest form of Jew-hatred. It takes the form, not just of insults, boycotts, and lawfare, but of wars, terrorist attacks, and calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and the genocide of the Jews.
Amman – The streets in Amman’s Jebel al-Weibdeh are crowded in the early evening with sounds of young people looking for a place to relax. Coffee shops intermix with art studios selling crafts for tourists. At the Maestro bar and restaurant, a band is getting ready for a live performance. The lights are dimmed and someone has put “no smoking” signs on the tables – they are out of place with the ash trays. Apparently, Monday has jam sessions and anyone can bring their instrument to join in. But it’s Wednesday.
A few of my readers recently asked me to explain the difference between “Palestinians” living inside and outside of Israel’s borders. Who are the “Palestinians” anyway? First, see below:
“Palestine” does not exist today as a nation-state, but at multiple times in history, including the present, it has been one of the names of a place. The Romans, recalling the defunct Philistines – non-Arab Sea People – coined it after defeating [Jewish general] Bar Kochba in 135 CE to disassociate what had been Judaea from Jews.
President Trump’s peace plan for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict surfaced two years ago and to this day – remarkably – only he and a handful of aides know its precise details. A stream of leaks, however, contains enough internal consistency that their collation, supplemented by conversations with administration officials, provides a plausible outline of the plan’s contents.
On March 31, a South Bend grandma brought her grandson to the hospital. The 11-month-old baby boy had been shot. His grandmother’s car had also taken fire. It was another early morning in South Bend.
Around the same time, Mayor Buttigieg, was toting up the $7 million in donations from his charm offensive as his bid for the 2020 Democrat nomination got underway. The national media never bothered reporting the shooting of an 11-month-old boy in the city he was supposed to be running, but instead confined its coverage of South Bend matters to a publicity stunt wedding officiated by Buttigieg.
The Palestinian students are being targeted because of their political affiliations and not because of any crime they committed.
While the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are busy beating up each other’s supporters, “pro-Palestinian” activists on US and Canadian university campuses are busy blaming Israel for Palestinian woes.
As an American Christian who has had the privilege of working in senior-level positions for four US presidents and who has enjoyed a close association with three of Israel’s prime ministers, I believe it is my obligation to provide the Israeli people with my views. I think my viewpoint is important because a vast number of American Evangelical Christians believe as I believe. In addition, Evangelical Christians are, without question, Israel’s strongest supporters in the United States.
Does Case 3000 – known as the submarine affair – prove that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is guilty of doing something illegal? Well, all Likud supporters believe with absolute confidence that it’s a political plot. Netanyahu’s opponents, however, believe – also with absolute confidence – that it’s the largest corruption case to ever occur in the State of Israel.