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Keeping the Candle Burning

Yael Eckstein greets Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein Memorial Freedom Flight, February 25, 2019 (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)

In the wake of Rabbi Eckstein's timely passing, much was said of the good work he spent his life doing with The Fellowship. And now, more and more pieces like this one, by Marcy Oster at The Times of Israel, are looking at how his daughter Yael is carrying on his vision and his mission:

Eckstein’s sink is overflowing with dishes and a child’s ride-on toy lies on its side in the cheerful and light-filled kitchen in her home in a sleepy residential neighborhood in a northern Israeli city. Eckstein explains that she left her house at 2:30 that morning to meet a plane carrying more than 240 new immigrants from Ukraine, leaving her husband to take care of the morning routine for their four young children.

On a chest of drawers a large memorial candle, meant to burn throughout the week of shiva, is lit. Shiva has been over for nearly two weeks, and the shloshim, the 30-day mourning period for her father, will not take place for another week. Eckstein says she plans to keep a candle burning in her father’s memory for the whole year of aveylut, or mourning.

The immigrant flight that she met that morning was dubbed the “Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein Memorial Freedom Flight.” A flight also arrived the day of his funeral, and immigrants continue to arrive regularly under the fellowship’s auspices. She meets a flight about once a month.

Eckstein travels to the Jerusalem office about twice a week, though it practically runs without her. Her highest priorities, she says, are fundraising, marketing and donor relations. She oversees 200 fellowship employees in Chicago, Israel, Korea, Brazil, and Canada.

She says her anonymity is important, unlike her father, who was recognized everywhere he went and was criticized at times as a self-promoter.

“Here in Israel I just want to keep my father’s legacy alive,” Eckstein says.

Outside of Israel, she has already been introduced to donors as her father’s successor, and they seem to love her.

“But I am not going to base the entire organization around me,” she says.

Eckstein knows how to talk to the donors. In the videos she makes for them, posted on the fellowship’s website, she speaks about spiritual connections and being blessed. It’s not an act, she says. She practices Orthodoxy, but calls herself a “religious rebel,” saying that she connects to Judaism through spiritual eyes.

“I’ve never really fit into a box. I’m my father’s daughter,” she says...

Tags: IFCJ , Reflections on Rabbi Eckstein

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