Rabbi Eckstein’s biography, The Bridge Builder, releases on August 11. Until then, enjoy a sneak peek from this compelling book about the rabbi’s life and continuing legacy.
In the early days of The Fellowship, Eckstein led a trip to the Holy Land with Pat Boone, on behalf of the Christian Broadcasting Network. The two men discovered they had a lot in common. They were both singers, although Eckstein’s religious recordings weren’t in the same league as Boone’s dozens of charted hits, which included “The Exodus Song” (with his lyric “God gave this land to me”).
They were both ex‑hoopsters too; Boone once played on a Hollywood team that included Bill Cosby. Boone had a BA from Columbia University, class of ’58. Eckstein had been there almost two decades later. Most important, they were both ardent Zionists. Like Eckstein, Boone had entertained troops in the Yom Kippur War, where he was bemused to discover that Israeli soldiers wanted to hear “Speedy Gonzales” more than “The Exodus Song.”
Eckstein was flattered to be associated with Boone. “He was a Hollywood star to me.” He also admired Boone’s daughter Debby. “She had just come out with ‘You Light Up My Life.’ She agreed to cohost a series of radio programs with me on Israel and Jewish dialogue. Pat and Debby and I talked for years about putting out an album, but nothing came of it.”
In Eckstein, Boone found a religiosity and sincerity that matched his own. He dubbed the young rabbi “the guileless Israelite,” borrowing Jesus’s description of the biblical Nathanael. “I found his commitment very moving,” says Boone.