Yael Eckstein provides steady hand to helm of IFCJ amid global crisis

“My father planted the roots, and we have been able to water it and see it grow.”

Yael Eckstein delivers food and sanitary products to Yelena Meirovitz in Hadera, Israel, one of 30,000 elderly The Fellowship is serving during the coronavirus pandemic (photo credit: IFCJ)
Yael Eckstein delivers food and sanitary products to Yelena Meirovitz in Hadera, Israel, one of 30,000 elderly The Fellowship is serving during the coronavirus pandemic
(photo credit: IFCJ)
“It’s an amazing thing to be raised in the vision and dream of my father,” says Yael Eckstein, president and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, “and to be in a leadership position to make sure that it continues to not only stay alive, but grow.”
Eckstein, who previously served the organization in numerous leadership positions, and who became president and CEO upon the untimely death of her father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, in February 2019, is a firm believer in The Fellowship and its continued success. “We have grown in the number of donors, budget, new donors, and outreach. My father planted the roots, and we have been able to water it and see it grow.”
Eckstein recalls that her father had to overcome resistance and skepticism from the Jewish community when he founded The Fellowship in 1983. “When he started, the concept of Christians standing with Israel was totally foreign and new. He used to say that he felt like Christopher Columbus discovering America. It was a totally new concept.” She notes that it took many years until the mainstream Jewish community recognized that the Christian community was a strategic partner for Israel and the Jewish people, and had no ulterior motives behind their support of Israel. Communal resistance softened somewhat when her father began to raise substantial sums of money for Israel and the Jewish people. Today, says Eckstein, with the positive impact that the Christian world has had on events in Israel, ranging from the US embassy move to Jerusalem to recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, the Jewish community is recognizing the vast potential of the Christian community. The Fellowship is leading in the engagement of the Christian community to stand with Israel and the Jewish people, says Yael, “and once we have that, the possibilities are endless.”
Yael notes that one of the keys to The Fellowship’s success is its single-minded focus on its objectives. “We are very effective in the specific niche market which we have outlined, which is the emergency response of basic needs and security needs. We operate throughout the year to get basic needs to people who need it most.” Since becoming president, Yael has spent the past year in determining the areas that The Fellowship wants to focus and creating real criteria and guidelines to determine the programs that it supports. Non-profit organizations must have clear strategic plans, goals and deliverables, she explains. “These are all measures that we have instituted in the past year and a half, which have made us grow stronger. Even with the Covid-19 crisis, we are 9% ahead of our projected budget, which means we are able to help more people.”
Part of what makes The Fellowship so effective is its willingness to work together with other organizations that recognize what is happening on the ground. “I believe in partnerships between Christians and Jews, partnerships between local communities, partnerships between Israel and the rest of the world, and partnerships with other organizations,” says Yael. By joining with NGOs such as the Joint Distribution Committee and ORT in the Former Soviet Union, and with Israeli governmental bodies, including the Ministry of Welfare, the Home Front Command, and local municipalities, The Fellowship is able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and provide necessary items for those who are in need. 
Since The Fellowship’s founding, other organizations have been created that provide for people in need, but says Yael, “I don’t look at them as competitors, but as a testimony to my father's success and vision. There are enough needs and enough people in need of help, and enough reason for Israel to have more friends, so that The Fellowship doesn't have to be the only one in the market.” There are other Jewish-Christian organizations that emphasize education, focus on advocacy, or promote Christian tourism to Israel, but The Fellowship, she explains, is unique in its focus on providing humanitarian aid to the Jewish people in Israel and the Former Soviet Union, promoting Aliyah from non-Western countries, and assisting in providing for security needs in Israel and for Jewish institutions around the world.
Over the years, says Yael, while real progress has been made both in interfaith dialogue, and increased Christian support for Israel and the Jewish people, more work needs to be done in maintaining the dialog and support with the next generation of Christians. “I fear that the next generation may not be as engaged with Israel as their parents were,” she says. To that end, The Fellowship, with the financial support of the Jewish community, is engaging Christian students on the many Christian college campuses and seminaries in the United States. The anti-Israel BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) has not yet reached these campuses, and Yael wants to ensure that Christian support for Israel and the Jewish people remains strong. “One of my focuses for the coming year is creating an Israel advocacy and education presence on Christian campuses so as not to lose the next generation.”
For Yael Eckstein, leading The Fellowship is much more than a job. “I believe in the work that we do,” she says. “The Fellowship is a mission, not an organization.” The Fellowship’s work is much more than fund-raising for providing humanitarian assistance, she explains. “The main point is in building strong bridges between Christians and Jews for Israel and the Jewish people, and one way that it expresses itself, is through this philanthropic aid.”
With the great progress that has been made in the development and improvement of Jewish- Christian relations, and the increasing number of Christians who retain pro-Israel and Jewish views, Yael Eckstein is optimistic about the future. “I believe that what we are seeing today is historic, prophetic and something I feel passionately about.”