Rabbi Eckstein’s biography, The Bridge Builder, released last week. In celebration, enjoy an excerpt from this compelling book about the rabbi’s life and continuing legacy.
On October 6, 1973, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack on Israel. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, and Eckstein was in shul, in Canada. His first impulse was to get on a plane and volunteer. He had been too young for the Six-Day War. He had declined the paratroopers to go to Yeshiva University. Now was his chance.
“My mother told me that I shouldn’t go – there was nothing I could do to help. Once again, it was Jackson to Eckstein, my parents dismissing my dreams.” If he enlisted, he knew, he would be in the thick of the fighting. Moses’s admonition to the cowardly tribes once again rang in his ears. How could he stand aside while his brothers fought?
He didn’t know how to fire a gun or drive a tank, but he could play the guitar and sing. A friend who worked for the Israeli Ministry of Education put him in touch with an officer in the Golani infantry brigade. If Yechiel could get himself to Israel, they would organize a tour for him, entertaining troops.
Eckstein’s performances were one-man shows, just him and an acoustic guitar. His first show was for a hospital ward full of badly wounded soldiers. He walked in feeling self-conscious, but his mood lightened when one of the patients called out, “It’s Tom Jones!” and everyone cracked up. He sang a set of Israeli songs, closing with his hit of the previous summer, “Narrow Bridge.” When he finished, one of the soldiers told him he had been thinking of that song when he was guarding a bridge over the Suez Canal.
Learn more about Rabbi Eckstein’s biography at bridgebuilderbook.com.