Shared values enables IFCJ to bridge gaps between Jews, Christians

Passing those values to the next generation is key to maintaining that vital bridge.

Yael Eckstein, President and CEO of The Fellowship, the largest provider of humanitarian aid in Israel, 2019 (photo credit: ERIC SULTAN)
Yael Eckstein, President and CEO of The Fellowship, the largest provider of humanitarian aid in Israel, 2019
(photo credit: ERIC SULTAN)
Each time I look at my four children being raised here in Israel, I realize that I'm witnessing a miracle.
Jewish history is the story of a people who, despite one threat and tragedy after another, managed to survive. Yet survival alone has never been enough for us – the Jewish people have always focused on thriving. For generations, we have overcome the worst of odds while preserving a distinct sense of peoplehood. Throughout exile, that peoplehood was threatened and maimed, yet never destroyed. Somehow, the Jewish people have managed to come out of each historical catastrophe to build their communities stronger than before. And today, with our country of Israel just 72 years young, we have never been stronger.
We're strong because this tiny country has one of the strongest armies in the world that has helped us defend ourselves against aggression and prevail against all odds. We’re strong because we are leaders in medical, scientific, and high-tech advancement. But we are also strong because we no longer stand alone.
For the first time in history, the Jewish people have friends. And I have come to realize that it's a miracle – no less a miracle than winning seemingly unwinnable wars or making the desert bloom – that millions of Christians stand bold and strong with Israel and the Jewish people.
Coronavirus has posed a new dilemma and challenge. Historically, when Israel has faced a crisis such as war or terror, Diaspora Jews immediately went into action to help the Jewish State. They raised money, started emergency funds, physically came to Israel to help, and were focused on doing everything they could to help Israel in peril. Perhaps now is the first time in the history of modern Israel that the entire world faces the same crisis Israel faces. Understandably, American and other Jewish communities and organizations are focusing on their communities’ local needs, leaving little (if any) resources to send to Israel. And with over 180,000 Holocaust survivors in isolation and over 1 million jobs lost in the past two months, the number of urgent requests for emergency basic needs in Israel is unprecedented.
As the largest provider of humanitarian aid in Israel, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) implements dozens of emergency aid distribution programs throughout the year. Using a vast network of local volunteers, we provide weekly food aid to more than 15,000 poor elderly people, distribute emergency weather relief during the winter and summer months to over 30,000 elderly, provide  new clothing to every orphaned child in Israel, and partner with the government to distribute millions of shekels’ worth of one-time emergency aid to people in need. With our infrastructure well-established and strong, we are always ready to launch a new emergency program within 24 hours. We are focused, yet flexible.
During the coronavirus crisis, The Fellowship has been able to allocate a $5 million emergency fund to feed elderly Jews in need, stock Israeli hospitals with medical supplies, and provide poor families with basic needs. We have the knowledge, staff, volunteers, and partnerships to implement emergency programs in the quickest and most effective way while cutting out bureaucracy. But we also have donors who have not only continued giving, they have upped their giving throughout this crisis. It is evident to me that during this unprecedented time our Christian allies and partners are more important than ever.
Building the alliance between Jews and Christians meant overcoming significant differences, but the similarities between members of both faiths are strong. Like Jews, Christians are deeply committed to passing down their values from generation to generation. They too have developed their own rituals and traditions which instill their values to children, grandchildren, and beyond. In the evangelical Christian community, support for Israel has traditionally been one of those values. In fact, evangelicals have provided over $1.8 billion to the Jewish people through organizations like The Fellowship, while wanting nothing in return. Their giving is a product of faith and love; a personal gesture between them and God.
Fellowship donors look at supporting Israel as an honor, a duty, and a spiritual obligation. Their gifts often come with a heartfelt note. Just last week, in midst of the crisis, we received a $1000 gift from a woman named Sarah, who asked us to pray for her. “I'm homeless and living in motels,” she wrote. “Please keep me in your prayers.”
This alliance between Jews and Christians is indeed strong, and in many ways it has never been stronger. It is a miracle of biblical proportions that the Jewish people have millions of Christian friends and supporters from North America, to China, to South Korea, to the Philippines, to Hong Kong, and beyond. But we can’t take this alliance for granted. Citing their 2017 poll about Christian attitudes toward Israel, Lifeway Research, which is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, spelled out a decline in support: “Older American evangelicals love Israel—but many younger evangelicals simply don’t care. Three-quarters (77 percent) of evangelicals 65 and older say they support the existence, security and prosperity of Israel. That drops to 58 percent among younger evangelicals, those 18 to 34.”
I don’t think it’s too late to turn these numbers around. Indeed, there is a solution. On top of strengthening The Fellowship's core activities in Israel and the former Soviet Union, my focus is to raise awareness about Israel among young evangelicals. In order to successfully foster this relationship and mobilize the Christian community to stand for Israel, we must build the correlation between biblical Israel and the modern state of Israel. By successfully building this bridge, we will also be building an alliance that the BDS movement, “Christ at the Checkpoint,” and other anti-Israel organizations can’t infiltrate. At a time when Jews are not only facing coronavirus, but a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism around the world – including in the U.S. – having friends has never been so important.
As I celebrated Israel's 72nd birthday this week and marveled at the fact that I'm raising my children in the land which my people prayed to return to for 2000 years, I couldn't help but think of the future. In my children's short lifetime, the American Embassy has been moved to Jerusalem, the Golan Heights has been recognized as part of Israel, and the Iran nuclear deal has been canceled. All of this has been largely due to the strong support of the Christian community for Israel. I am making a pledge: I will do everything in my power to ensure that this critical support for Israel remains strong. The Fellowship will continue to foster and invest in this relationship between Christians and Jews, and I invite the Jewish world to join this very important initiative.
The responsibility of passing on our highest, most cherished values to the next generation extends beyond just the Jewish community, to include Christians as well, and all people who care about the future of the world that we live in. My prayer is that together, Jews and Christians alike, we will successfully pass down a love for and commitment to the State of Israel to the next generation.