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Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein raised millions in Christian donations for Israel. Now the late activist’s d

Time:2019-03-12 22:43Shoes websites Click:

Christian donations late millions Raised

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Most of Yael Eckstein’s neighbors didn’t know that her father was the head of one of the largest charities supporting Jews in Israel and around the world until he died earlier this month. Many of them still don’t think that is important.

That’s OK with her: She doesn’t thrive on publicity like he did.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, or IFCJ, died earlier this month of a heart attack at the age of 67. His death leaves his daughter to run an organization that raises about $130 million a year, mostly from evangelical Christians. And a lot of that money came in due to her father’s strong and charismatic personality.

Yael Eckstein had known that she would be taking over for her father at the fellowship. Three years ago he blessed her, literally – the moment was captured on video — after determining that she would be the best person to carry on his work. He began to mentor her, handing over more and more responsibility and decision-making power.

A year ago, the group’s board of directors selected Yael Eckstein to be its president-elect (her father was not in the room during the vote, she says). This was all in preparation for the rabbi’s retirement, which was scheduled to begin about two years from now.

Yechiel Eckstein, based in Chicago, founded what is now the IFCJ in 1983, calling it the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Its primary focus was to promote dialogue and bridge-building between Christians and Jews, not fundraising. His daughter says the primary focus of the organization remains bridge-building.

But when the Soviet Union began to collapse, allowing Jews by the early 1990s to leave in droves for Israel, the United States and other countries, Christian leaders came to the rabbi and asked them how they could help. This began the group’s first major fundraising effort, “On Wings of Eagles.” Since the first planeload of Jews from the former Soviet Union arrived in Israel in 1992 under the auspices of the fellowship, the program has brought hundreds of thousands of Jews to Israel from countries including Russia, Ethiopia and Brazil.

Yechiel Eckstein moved to Israel in 2000 and opened an office in Jerusalem. Once he saw how great the needs were in the Jewish state, he began raising money to help poor Israelis — sometimes in competition and more recently in concert with the government, the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel and the range of Diaspora-based Jewish philanthropies.

Yael Eckstein and her husband, a native Israeli who moved to the United States at 7, made aliyah in 2005, arriving on her father’s doorstep in Israel eight days after making the decision to move. While living with her father, she saw what the fellowship was doing and decided that she needed to be a part of it.

But her father wanted her to attend law school and refused to hire her, so Eckstein went to the head of the Israel office and asked for a job. For a year she stuffed envelopes – that was fine with her father, who thought it would push her to law school. When she saw no real chance for advancement in the Israel office, she called the Chicago office and asked for a position. That’s when she started talking to the donors.

During the day she cared for her infant daughter, and by night she called donors halfway across the ocean on her father’s behalf. The donors loved it, and so did the younger Eckstein.

“Once I started talking to the donors I fell in love with them,” she says. “I caught the vision.”

Eckstein has since served in several positions in the organization, including global executive vice president, senior vice president, and director of program development and ministry outreach. Her father at some point gave up on the idea of law school.

*

Eckstein’s sink is overflowing with dishes and a child’s ride-on toy lies on its side in the cheerful and light-filled kitchen in her home in a sleepy residential neighborhood in a northern Israeli city. Eckstein explains that she left her house at 2:30 that morning to meet a plane carrying more than 240 new immigrants from Ukraine, leaving her husband to take care of the morning routine for their four young children.

On a chest of drawers a large memorial candle, meant to burn throughout the week of shiva, is lit. Shiva has been over for nearly two weeks, and the shloshim, the 30-day mourning period for her father, will not take place for another week. Eckstein says she plans to keep a candle burning in her father’s memory for the whole year of aveylut, or mourning.

 

The immigrant flight that she met that morning was dubbed the “Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein Memorial Freedom Flight.” A flight also arrived the day of his funeral, and immigrants continue to arrive regularly under the fellowship’s auspices. She meets a flight about once a month.

Eckstein travels to the Jerusalem office about twice a week, though it practically runs without her. Her highest priorities, she says, are fundraising, marketing and donor relations. She oversees 200 fellowship employees in Chicago, Israel, Korea, Brazil, and Canada.

She says her anonymity is important, unlike her father, who was recognized everywhere he went and was criticized at times as a self-promoter.

“Here in Israel I just want to keep my father’s legacy alive,” Eckstein says.

Outside of Israel, she has already been introduced to donors as her father’s successor, and they seem to love her.

“But I am not going to base the entire organization around me,” she says.

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