IFCJ investment in bridge building pays off for Israel amid coronavirus

Fostering Jewish-Christian relations during ordinary times, an integral part of The Fellowship’s founding vision, proves vital for Israel during these extraordinary times.

Yael Eckstein now leads The Fellowship and carries on Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s legacy of building bridges between Christians and Jews (photo credit: 2017 IFCJ)
Yael Eckstein now leads The Fellowship and carries on Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s legacy of building bridges between Christians and Jews
(photo credit: 2017 IFCJ)
In a world engulfed by the chaos of the coronavirus crisis, one unique organization – a coalition of Christians and Jews – stands out. While many North American Jewish organizations that are traditional sources of aid to Israel have had to refocus efforts on their local communities, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) remains one of the largest and most effective organizations on the ground in Israel helping needy people. Today, the organization raises more than $127 million annually to support Israel and her people through a myriad of programs that touch every part of Israeli society and has allocated more than $5 million to support Israel’s people and Israeli hospitals during the coronavirus crisis.
The late Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, z”l, founded the organization in 1983 to build bridges between evangelical Christians and Jews, and unite them to support Israel and her people. To some, it seemed an unlikely alliance. But, over the course of 36 years, The Fellowship has become a pioneer and leader in Jewish-Christian relations, building bridges of understanding and cooperation between two groups whose relationship was, for years, characterized by animosity and misunderstanding.
The seeds were planted in 1978, when Eckstein was a newly ordained rabbi working for the Anti-Defamation League. He was sent to coordinate opposition to a proposed neo-Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb that is home to a large number of Holocaust survivors. This placed Eckstein in the midst of a story that drew national attention and raised key issues about free speech and the seemingly indestructible nature of antisemitism.
Much to his surprise, Eckstein found that many in the local Christian community were not just willing, but eager to stand with the Jewish community in their opposition to the march. He found in them a genuine love for Israel and the Jewish people, and a sense of responsibility to stand against antisemitism.
Thus began the historic partnership that led the Rabbi to form The Fellowship. That partnership is the foundation of one of the largest philanthropic organizations in Israel today. For the better part of three decades The Fellowship has filled the ordinary, day-to-day needs of poor and disadvantaged Israelis, and is in a position to take extraordinary measures to help in times of extraordinary need as well.
The bridge that The Fellowship built between members of two great faiths is also playing a key role in fighting the scourge of antisemitism. In 2017, after a string of high-profile anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish institutions around the world, Rabbi Eckstein wrote, “I am encouraged by the reactions to these attacks. Over the years I have seen larger and larger gatherings as well as louder and louder condemnation in response to hate. Unity among people of faith is the only antidote to antisemitism and other forms of hatred. Both Jews and Christians should be on the frontlines of this movement of unity and shalom.”
Yael Eckstein, who assumed leadership of The Fellowship after her father Rabbi Eckstein’s untimely death in 2019, echoes these words. “There are millions of Christians around the world who not only stand with Israel in their hearts, but stand up for Israel, speak up for Israel, and work in so many ways to ensure Israel’s safety and survival. For the first time, Jews do not stand alone. We have Christian friends who have proven time and again that they will not desert us in our time of need. From security needs, to political support, humanitarian aid, and prayer on our behalf, our Christian friends have sustained Israel immeasurably.”
At a time when the world is becoming more divided, it is easy to forget that building bridges between people of faith can create partnerships that are essential sources of good for people in need. It is a legacy that The Fellowship wants to make sure that we remember.