The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ or The Fellowship) was founded in 1983 to promote better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews and build broad support for Israel. Today it is one of the leading forces helping Israel and Jews in need worldwide, and is the largest channel of Christian support for Israel. Founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, The Fellowship now raises more than $120 million per year, mostly from Christians, to assist Israel and the Jewish people. Since its founding, The Fellowship has raised more than $1.8 billion for this work. The organization has offices in Jerusalem, Chicago, Toronto, and Seoul.
Yael Eckstein, IFCJ President and CEO, oversees all ministry programs and serves as the international spokesperson for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Prior to her present duties, Yael served as Global Executive Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Director of Program Development and Ministry Outreach. Based in Israel with her husband and their four children, Yael is a published writer and a respected social services professional.
Yael Eckstein has contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and other publications, and is the author of three books: Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children, Holy Land Reflections: A Collection of Inspirational Insights from Israel, and Spiritual Cooking with Yael. In addition, her insights into life in Israel, the Jewish faith, and Jewish-Christian relations can be heard on The Fellowship’s radio program, Holy Land Moments, which air five times per week on over 1,500 radio stations around the world.
Yael Eckstein has partnered with other global organizations, appeared on national television, and visited with U.S. and world leaders on issues of shared concern. She has been a featured guest on CBN’s The 700 Club with Gordon Robertson, and she served on a Religious Liberty Panel on Capitol Hill in May 2015 in Washington, D.C., discussing religious persecution in the Middle East. Her influence as one of the young leaders in Israel has been recognized with her inclusion in The Jerusalem Post’s 50 Most Influential Jews of 2020 and The Algemeiner’s Jewish 100 of 2019, and she was featured as the cover story of Nashim (Women) magazine in May 2015.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, outside of Chicago, and well-educated at both American and Israeli institutions – including biblical studies at Torat Chesed Seminary in Israel, Jewish and sociology studies at Queens College in New York, and additional study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – Yael Eckstein has also been a Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher in the United States.
To begin, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your upbringing?
I live in Israel now, and I guess I would say that life is everything I’ve never dreamed of. I grew up in Chicago, studied in New York, and never thought I would end up living in Israel, and thank God I’ve been here now for over 15 years and wouldn’t change it for anything.
I now run the organization that my father Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein started when my mom was pregnant with me, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which also was something that I wasn’t raised with. I wasn’t expected to take over. It happened very organically.
When I came to Israel and saw what he was doing, then I wanted to be part of it. I’ve been with The Fellowship for 15 years. I am married with four kids, and just happy to be part of the world that’s privileged to be on the side that is giving during these very difficult times.
Tell is about your father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Well, my father was a man with a mission. Whatever he did, he put his heart into it, which is why I think whenever he entered a room, he would just take over. As I’m sure you know, his energy was so strong because he believed in everything he did. And after he passed away at age 67, I realized, everything kind of makes sense. He had so much to accomplish, so much to achieve in such a short lifetime. But he was a young rabbi with ordination from Yeshiva University when he was working for the ADL and was sent to Chicago to stop the Nazi March in Skokie. Many people will remember that difficult time in 1977.
And it was then that he realized that even the strongest Jewish community is so small in numbers, that he decided to reach out to the Christian community. They were expressing their love for the Jewish people and their desire to really stand with the Jewish people in the struggles that were happening then, which was right when the Soviet Union fell and Jewish people were able to to get out and go to Israel — the first opportunity to return home in thousands of years. That’s when he really started this mission of connecting the Jewish community with Christians, who he saw as Israel’s greatest friend and strategic partner.
Tell us about the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
The Fellowship is the leading non-profit building bridges between Christians and Jews, blessing Israel and the Jewish people around the world with humanitarian care and lifesaving aid. We look at the Torah and the Bible for our direction of where we should be helping because there are so many causes. There are so many needs on the ground. And so we open the Bible and see “feed the hungry,” “clothe the naked,” “shelter the poor,” and those are the areas that we’re most focused on.
In 2020, with the support of our partners and supporters, we set a record by providing aid to more than 2 million needy people in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world.
What is the best way to promote an interfaith community?
I really believe in the power of the individual and in the power of authenticity. What I see is when I am so rooted in what I’m doing and really believing in what I’m doing and thinking about what I’m doing, suddenly you would think according to logic that I would be close to other people, but I always say you know that you’ve reached truth when you’ve reached paradox. Suddenly I’m more open to hearing about other faiths and other traditions and other ideas because I don’t feel threatened by them. I would say just to invite and include others in different traditions, different passions that you have that are connected to Israel, that are connected to faith and simply to be open and yet to be very much rooted in what you believe in and where you are.
How has IFCJ responded to the global pandemic?
During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, we joined with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Latet, another Israeli humanitarian organization, to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of elderly people. This led to the creation of a $20 million emergency fund and an ongoing partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Welfare to distribute emergency aid across the nation.
No one could have anticipated the challenges and hardship 2020 would bring, but even when they are facing their own public health and economic crisis, our partners continue to show their love for Israel’s people in acts of great compassion and generosity. The Jewish people cannot ask for better friends than that. We are proud to represent our dedicated Christian friends for Israel to deliver lifesaving aid.