Pro-Israel interfaith fundraiser expanding

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews branches out to South Korea, Australia, Bolivia.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in Ethiopia (photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in Ethiopia
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
In an attempt to expand its operations and further strengthen ties between Christians across the globe and Israel, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is reaching out to new communities on two continents and has recently opened offices in South Korea and Australia.
“Our goal is to deepen Christian bonds with Israel and the Jewish people and allow tangible and meaningful ways for supporters to express their love for Israel,” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and executive director of the IFCJ, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last week.
With offices already in the US and Canada, the IFCJ currently raises more than $90 million a year from Christian supporters for social welfare projects in Israel and other humanitarian projects around the world.
“Our goal is to strengthen Christian and Jewish ties around the world and provide supporters of Israel with the vehicles to demonstrate their support,” said Eckstein, adding that its not only about fundraising but also about increasing tourism to Israel, education about the Jewish state and Christianity’s ancient connection to Judaism without emphasizing the political issues.
“We recently opened up our new office in South Korea and that is where 80 percent of our emphasis will be in the coming year,” continued Eckstein, who also has plans to expand his work in South America too.
“What I have done essentially is judge where there is a growth of Protestant Evangelical and Pentecostal movements and wherever there is a growth, wherever I see there is a potential for a pro- Israel position, I have tried to develop it,” he said.
In South Korea, where there has been an immense increase in Evangelical communities, the potential for pro-Israel activities is tremendous, said Eckstein, adding that his operations there will become official this coming September when the Asian nation celebrates 50 years of ties with Israel. The IFCJ’s work in South Korea will include encouraging tourism to Israel and donations to social welfare projects here.
If his efforts in Seoul are successful, the former Chicago- based rabbi said he would also look into opening additional offices in other Asian countries such as the Philippines and even China.
In addition to Asia, Eckstein told the Post that he is also looking to boost support for Israel in South America, where communities are traditionally Catholic and anti- Semitism has been rife in recent years.
“There has been a change in demographics of Christians around the world,” observed Eckstein. “Countries in Latin America might have been entirely Catholic in the past but today in countries such as Panama, Uruguay and Bolivia at least 30% of the population is Pentecostal.”
He said that the IFCJ already provides regular radio broadcasts about Israel in Spanish, which reach almost every country in Latin America.
While the charity has never had offices there until now, plans are already underway to open up in Argentina and Brazil. In South America, said Eckstein, the goal is purely to boost support and understanding for Israel.
“Wherever I see a community that is tied to the Bible, I know that I have an audience for Israel,” said Eckstein, adding that strengthening ties to the Jewish homeland is not such an easy task.
According to the rabbi, who has been fostering relations between Christians and Jews in North America for the best part of the past three decades, the relationship between the two was not initially obvious.
“Christian Zionism exists today in America but it did not happen by itself,” he stated, describing: “When I first started meeting Evangelicals, I was the only Jew in the field and often, I was attacked by both communities.”
Eckstein, however, pointed out that his extensive media outreach to the community, which has included over the years hundreds of infommercials emphasizing the joint Judeo-Christian connection to the Bible and promoting tourism to the Holy Land, has helped to make changes.
“I would like to believe that we played a significant role in fostering relations by directing their biblical attention to walking where Jesus walked and highlighting the Jewish roots of Christianity,” finished Eckstein, adding that thankfully he had the foresight to see the potential that “nobody else could see.”