Eckstein: Christian supporters are ready to fill philanthropic void

Eckstein: It's time for Jews to accept outside philanthropic support.

eckstein 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
eckstein 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
In light of the global economic crisis and the far-reaching consequences of the Madoff investment scam, it is time for Jews to accept the support of the Christian community, which is willing to fill the void in the troubled Jewish philanthropic world, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Eckstein is founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which raises more than $90 million a year. "This situation is a real tragedy for Israeli and Jewish life worldwide," Eckstein told the Post, adding that even before news of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi investment scheme and its impact on Jewish donors, foundations and organizations hit the headlines last week, the Jewish nonprofit world had already suffered a severe blow. "The economic crisis for these organizations started a few months ago with the falling value of the dollar, and now, with this scandal, the situation is potentially even worse," explained Eckstein, adding that while "we don't have enough to cover every hole, we can help fill the void." While no one yet knows the full impact of the scandal, which has already wiped out several US Jewish foundations, Eckstein said that certain organizations had already approached the Fellowship. "Obviously, I am not happy that this is happening, but I am happy that we are in a position to be able to help out the Jewish community when it is experiencing a period of suffering," Eckstein said, highlighting that his own organization's fund-raising was up by 11.8 percent over the past year. "I have been criticized in the past for working with Christians," he said. "However, I now think it's time that they are acknowledged by the Jewish community for their continuing support." Eckstein sits on the boards of the Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod/United Israel Appeal and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The International Fellowship's central position in the Jewish philanthropic world - $60m. of its budget goes to Jewish welfare causes in Israel and the former Soviet Union - is a relatively recent development and the organization is sometimes viewed with suspicion. "I have personally been attacked by some groups who have even warned that no one should accept our money," Eckstein said. However, over the past few years, many of the world's large Jewish organizations, such as the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency and the United Jewish Communities, the chief fund-raising arm of North American Jewry, have been more receptive to help from Eckstein and his Christian donors. At the UJC's General Assembly in Jerusalem last month, the rabbi and his organization were honored for their contributions to international Jewish causes. As for the Fellowship's success in navigating economic turmoil and avoiding crooked investment schemes, he explained that the principle of giving in the Christian community differed quite starkly from that of Jews. While Jewish fund-raisers rely on 20% of their donors for 80% of their funds, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews taps into a much larger base of donors, "who give spontaneously from their heart based on their belief in the scriptures, and not out of a sense of community obligation," Eckstein said. The rabbi said that over the past 14 years, his organization had built up a database of some 80,000 donors, mostly low earners who were unlikely to take chances on the stock market or with private investors. "This money is steady. It comes from amcha [the people] and not only from those at the top of the pyramid," he said. "This is not just a technique that can be imposed on a community," Eckstein said when asked whether he thought that in light of the recent blows to Jewish philanthropy there would be serious changes in the community's approach to fund-raising. "People need to really buy into the concept. So far, I have not seen any evidence of changes in this direction."