Here and There: Are we a people who look a gift horse in the mouth?

Yechiel Eckstein was a man who recognized the urgent necessity to help Jews in need – in Israel and throughout the world.

AGLOW CHIEF of strategic services Kay Rogers poses with an IDF border policeman in Metulla. (photo credit: Courtesy)
AGLOW CHIEF of strategic services Kay Rogers poses with an IDF border policeman in Metulla.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The sudden untimely death of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein sparked thoughts that have lain dormant for a considerable time.
Here was a man who recognized the urgent necessity to help Jews in need – in Israel and throughout the world. His deep concern for Israelis living at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale and his strong Zionist desire to assist Jews in the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and India to immigrate to Israel were the backbone of his achievements through the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Eckstein founded the IFCJ in 1983 in order to build bridges between Jews and Christians.
Not only was he successful in his prime aim, but the organization raised $1.4 billion, mostly through Evangelical Christian donations. The beneficiaries include Holocaust survivors where, sadly, our state’s mechanism fails dismally to assist them live out their lives in dignity. What is particularly shocking is that, in spite of a strong economy, Eckstein found far too many Israelis in need of food and daily support, with many continuing to benefit from IFCJ funding.
Yet there are some who were vehemently opposed to Eckstein working with the Christians of IFCJ, believing their ultimate objective is to convert Jews to Christianity.
I was reminded of this a few years ago upon receiving an invitation to speak at a Jerusalem conference of Bridges for Peace a Christian organization founded in South Africa whose head office is based in Jerusalem, with branches in eight countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States.
The conference program, including the session I was to address, was advertised online, resulting in my being contacted by a member of the Jerusalem Municipality who all but commanded me to refrain from participation in this conference. She believed the aim of the organization is to convert Jews to Christianity.
Bridges for Peace provides financial help to Israelis in dire need of assistance. Its website accentuates the high cost of living in Israel and its negative consequences. It runs an “Adoption” program whereby donations can go specifically to aid, amongst others, single parents, students and Holocaust survivors. Having addressed this organization previously on a visit to South Africa, I had no problem in accepting their invitation to speak to the group in Jerusalem. My response to the woman who wanted me to back down was that we in Israel should accept such invitations and welcome everyone who wishes to identify with and support us.
For more than 12 years, as the former public affairs chairwoman of World WIZO, I addressed numerous non-Jewish groups and Jewish organizations both here and abroad. In the midst of the second brutal and bloody Intifada, I was invited to address a gathering in Jerusalem of some 450 Christian women from Aglow International, an organization founded in the aftermath of the Six Day War. Aglow recognizes the Jewish people’s connection and inherent right to Israel based on the Tanach. Since 2000, this international organization has brought hundreds of women to Israel each year.
During the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000 and ended in February 2005, tourism was at an all-time low. There was a dearth of Jewish tourists, who were simply afraid to visit. It was a refreshing and inspiring experience to participate in this Aglow gathering where their dynamic president, Jane Hansen-Hoyt (who is still at the helm today) brought hundreds of women to Jerusalem throughout the Intifada years. Hanson-Hoyt stressed the greatness of being in Israel, especially at this time, in support of the Jewish people facing a daily barrage of murder.
The Magazine spoke with Aglow’s Kay Rogers, chief of Strategic Services, who said that the hotel where Aglow will hold its forthcoming convocation in Jerusalem in September, has a hall that can accommodate 850 guests, but there is room for an additional 150 to be seated in a second hall where they will be able to view all via a large screen. A full house is expected come September.
Rogers explained that Aglow works closely with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where its International Israel Education Director has moderated many AIPAC policy conference panels that explain to American Jewish attendees why Christians stand in support of Israel. In addition, the organization is actively involved in fighting the BDS campaign’s attempt to isolate Israel.
In 2018, Israel enjoyed a record number of four million tourists, an increase of 13% over the previous year. What is particularly noteworthy is that 61% were Christian and 22% Jews, with the remaining 17% composing 12.1% unaffiliated, 1.8% Muslim, 0.6% Buddhists, 0.5% Hindus and 0.19% Baha’i.
The relatively small percentage of Jewish tourists should be a wake-up call for Israel. Unfortunately, we see a tapering off, among Diaspora Jewry, in its identification with Israel. With America home to the second largest Jewish population (following Israel) we can point to the alienation of the majority of American Jews belonging to the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism, as a contributing factor.
Back to the beginning; in paying justifiable homage to Rabbi Eckstein, we should be embracing and appreciating the strong identification of our Christian friends whose support and love of the Jewish people and Israel is personified in such practical and generous terms. Most of all, we admire and appreciate those whose beliefs give them the courage to be with us at times when others shy away.
The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.