It truly was a magical evening, as over 100 people from across Israel gathered together on a Tel Aviv rooftop to celebrate the release of The Bridge Builder, a biography on the life and living legacy of my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
I have never seen anything like it before: Orthodox rabbis chatted with Christian priests, Druze spiritual leaders conversed with Ethiopian rabbis, and young, modern businessmen and women stood captivated in discussions.
As my father signed newly printed copies of The Bridge Builder, I believe it was clear to everyone present that there could not have been a better phrase to describe what he has accomplished in his life. I had chills as I realized that the only person who could bring out such a diverse crowd to the center of Tel Aviv is my father, a true, God-led bridge builder.
During this extraordinary night, new friendships were formed everywhere I turned. “What is your connection to Rabbi Eckstein?” I heard a young journalist ask a Haredi rabbi from Kiryat Shmona, which is located on Israel’s northern border. “The Fellowship supports the soup kitchen and elderly club I started,” he said, and continued, “And besides that – on a personal level – I love Rabbi Eckstein and everything he stands for.”
I heard an Israeli Druze man and a government official deep in conversation. “The Fellowship not only helps Druze youth get an education, but recently helped Druze refugees in Syria with lifesaving food aid,” the man told the government official. “Rabbi Eckstein and The Fellowship help all Israelis in need, from wherever they are, with whatever they need, Jew, Christian, or Druze.” The government minister reached out his hand to the Druze man. “I am so happy thatsomeone is helping this worthy cause,” he said. “I don’t know where Israeli society would be without The Fellowship.”
My father has always been a master of bringing people together. He has a way of getting each person to look beyond their fears and stereotypes of “the other” to see each other as unique children of God. He passionately believes in the first verse of Psalm 133, and has dedicated his life to seeing it come to fruition: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
As my father stood up to speak, the room went silent. And as the Ethiopians, Druze, government ministers, journalists, heads of philanthropic organizations, and ultra-orthodox rabbis stood together listening intently to each word, my father – the bridge builder – delivered a message that was relevant and directed to each individual.
“There are more needs today than I have seen in my lifetime,” he said. “I go to the former Soviet Union and see desperate needs – but then I return to Israel and see the same desperate need for food, heat, medicine, and clothing in every community. And it should be an embarrassment to us all.”
Looking around at the individuals in the room, he smiled. “Each one of you are leaders in your communities. Each one of you has a responsibility to the people of Israel to make the situation here better. Millions of Christians in America and around the world are giving sacrificially in order to help us here in the Holy Land, and The Fellowship distributes those funds, which help over 1.4 million people a year. But each one of you needs to do your part too. We can’t just stand together; we need to stand together to make the state of Israel and her people stronger.”
The night ended and everyone went home, but the relationships and messages the attendees let into their hearts will last a lifetime. It was another successful evening of bridge building.