Beryl Eckstein: Remembering Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Join host Yael Eckstein, President and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, as she pays tribute to her beloved father and mentor, Fellowship Founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who passed away this month in 2019. Yael celebrates her father’s extraordinary life with a special guest —Beryl Eckstein, her father’s younger brother. In this very personal and emotional podcast, Beryl Eckstein recalls growing up with Yechiel, walks us through the early, painful days when his brother was ostracized by the Jewish community for his work reaching out to Christians, and honors the lasting legacy of Rabbi Eckstein’s historic bridge-building work. As The Fellowship celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year, you won’t want to miss this inspiring tribute to a man whose vision literally changed the course of Jewish-Christian relations.
As podcast host Yael Eckstein says, few people knew her father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, better than his younger brother, Beryl Eckstein. Although years younger, Beryl remained his brother’s closest ally and supporter during the difficult years as Yechiel built his organization, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, turning it into what is today, the largest provider of humanitarian aid in Israel.
It was not an easy path, and Beryl recalls the hurt and pain that Yechiel felt when leadership of the Jewish community turned against him and ostracized him.
The two brothers, along with their two sisters, grew up under the careful guidance and tutelage of Belle and Simon Eckstein, who was the chief rabbi of Ottawa, Canada. It was a household filled with faith and song and a deep love and connection to Israel, where the family has roots going back to the 1800s.
As children, Beryl recalls that they saw their father as the rabbi of a large congregation dealing with people’s lives, their problems, and their pain. “It was always the rabbi that shouldered that pain, and it is something that I think we all learned from. My brother gravitated to it; I gravitated away from it,” Beryl said. But because of that experience and exposure, “We learned how to speak to people and how to feel people’s pain. We learned to understand people and how to lead.”
And while both brothers attended Yeshiva University in New York City, Yechiel chose to follow his father’s footsteps and go into the rabbinate. Yet, his path following his ordination as a rabbi veered greatly from what anyone would consider traditional. And when he began to reach out to Christians, seeing them as a source of support for the Jewish people and Israel, many in the Jewish community did not understand.
“Yechiel had a vision, a dream. He believed he was on a mission, a goal, and he wasn’t going to let anything else ruffle his feathers,” Beryl recalled. Still, when the Jewish community and leaders turned on him and banned him from being able to study the Torah and the Talmud with them, Beryl said it hurt Yechiel deeply.
Years later, as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews began to make its mark in Jewish-Christian relations and became successful raising money for humanitarian purposes, the tide began to turn. “All those people who had criticized him, all those people came around,” Beryl said. “They became his supporters in everything they did.”
And that, Beryl says, is his brother’s legacy: “He changed history. He was the first to reach out to the Evangelical community, and he was the only one for many, many years. The fact that the Embassy of the United States is in Jerusalem — it all came from a base of Yechiel Eckstein.”