May 22, 2014
Earlier this week, my father, Rabbi Eckstein, stood in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) auditorium and received the prestigious Raoul Wallenberg award from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). He became filled with emotion recalling the many years he spent living in America, building up The Fellowship, and raising a family, all while his heart yearned for the Holy Land.
After confidently listing his many accomplishments, suddenly my father’s words became shaky as he spoke about this time period. “Thirteen years ago, I fulfilled my dream,” he softly and slowly said into the microphone. “I made aliyah to Israel.”
I sat in the front row of the huge auditorium of VIPs, Israeli government ministers, mayors, family members, and businessmen, but in that moment, I felt like it was only my father and me in the room. I listened to him speak about this period in his life where his body was in America, yet his soul was in Israel, and I was flooded with vivid childhood memories.
Suddenly, I could not hold back my tears as I remembered being a little girl looking out the window at our backyard in Chicago each Shabbat, and seeing my father wrapped in his prayer shawl with his eyes closed, loudly singing out praise to God.
I’ll never forget sitting on my father’s lap each week, immediately after Shabbat ended, and watching him play the piano. I can still feel the soulful way that he swayed back and forth with the music and played traditional Hebrew songs for hours.
My childhood memories are all sweet and wonderful, but I knew from a young age that although my father was happy with his life, he would not be entirely fulfilled until he lived in Israel. With each song my father sang, blessing that he made, and prayer that he hummed, I could sense his longing for the Holy Land. “Our home is in Israel, even if our house is not,” I remember him telling me as a teenager, and I understood exactly what he was talking about.
I was snapped out of my nostalgic childhood daydreaming as the audience began to rise to their feet and applaud my father. I looked around at hundreds of people clapping, whistling, and smiling, then turned my gaze to my father on the stage, modestly holding his award, and my heart was filled with joy.
I am so proud of my father for everything that he has accomplished. He has united the Jewish and Christian communities in friendship, respect, and solidarity, helped to provide basic necessities to millions of suffering Jews around the world, and played a huge role in bringing biblical prophecy to fruition.
And I am equally as proud of my father for having taken the difficult steps to make his own personal dream of moving to Israel a reality, and being the best father and role model a child could dream of having. .
Mazel tov, Abba – congratulations, Father!
With blessings from the Holy Land,