A Righteous Person and Hero of the Jewish People

The Fellowship  |  March 7, 2019

Rabbi Eckstein and a person together at the Western Wall.

Since Rabbi Eckstein’s passing, many figures among both Jewish and Christian leaders have lauded his life’s work. But few were as close to Rabbi Eckstein as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Writing at The Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Boteach recalls the groundbreaking work that his good friend did in extending a hand of friendship to his Christian brothers and sisters in faith:

Many good people work to strengthen the Jewish people and the State of Israel, but few did more than my friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who died tragically and suddenly on February 6 at the age of 67, just two days after attending my son’s bar mitzvah in Jerusalem. Besides his many personal virtues, what made Yechiel stand out from the crowd was his commitment to work with Christians to raise tens of millions of dollars for Ethiopian Jews and countless others ignored by the Jewish establishment…

But with the rise of American Evangelicals, a new movement was born, one that went back to Scripture to establish the eternal Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and the Jewish people as God’s chosen nation. Where Christianity was plagued by “replacement theology,” which says that the Jews were supplanted by Christians as God’s chosen, Evangelicals emphasized the eternal and unchanging character of God’s relationship with the Jews, as promised by Scripture. God is forever. He doesn’t change His mind…

I began to see these changes in the late 1980s when I became the rabbi at Oxford University. Thousands of Christian students not only flooded our Friday night Shabbat tables, but they were at the forefront of volunteering to help our organization grow and defend Israel.

Yechiel was at the forefront of leveraging this new friendship into a joint and tangible project of partnership between Jews and Christians for the sake of the Jewish people and Israel. The breadth of his vision was extraordinary.

It was Yechiel who initiated the “On Wings of Eagles” project to raise money to support the mass immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. His organization was also at the forefront of providing assistance to Ethiopian Jews. The obituary in The New York Times noted that he also helped poor, elderly Holocaust survivors and Israeli Druse. His organization also helped build and upgrade bomb shelters, provided MRI machines to hospitals, donated fire engines and gave surveillance drones to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and near the Gaza border.

Like me, Yechiel believed passionately in promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue and promoting religious freedom around the world. He started his organization with a mission but little money. When Yechiel started the Fellowship, he had, as was widely reported, no salary, no medical benefits, and a pregnant wife.

What he built over the decades is truly remarkable…