As Rabbi Eckstein’s loved ones said goodbye at his funeral, Yael shared these moving words for her dear Abba (father), words we now share with you:
To my most loving Abba:
I have yet to write a speech that I didn’t send to you first to look over. Each time I sent you a speech for feedback, you would give the same answer to me: Yael, you’re amazing. You’re way better than I am. I would always read your message and laugh. I’m very aware, Abba, that in no world could I even come close to your greatness.
But it always felt good to hear your words because I knew you meant it. You always looked at your children and grandchildren as perfect. “I’m a midget on the shoulders of a giant”, I would answer you every single time.
And indeed, Abba, you were a giant in so many ways. You have countless gifts which you passed on to all of us, girls: your love for Israel, your humbleness, your love for Torah and learning, your passion for Shabbat, your dedication to help others and better the world.
But there’s one specific gift, Abba, which is the greatest gift I’ve received from you. It’s the commitment to hold family over everything else in the world. The ability to shove off from everything that’s going on at work and the craziness around you and focus on family with all of your heart.
I’ll never forget the look in your eyes, the sweetness in your voice, and the smile on your face each time you saw your grandchildren. I felt like me’ein olam haba, the joy that only comes in the world to come. To the entire world, you were Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, but the second you saw your grandkids you were simply Saba.
All of the stress, gone. Worry, nonexistent. Emails, as if they didn’t exist. And for those moments of you being a present, loving, accepting grandfather I always thought of my childhood.
How you would come in from work late at night and leave us watermelon-flavored gum on the table, which we would eat when we woke up. How you would daven in the backyard, eyes closed, dancing almost every Shabbat whether you were home alone in our backyard or in the middle of a packed shul. You always davened, Abba, like you were the only one there.
You would sing out loud the parts your heart connected to, even if the chazan was a totally different part. I loved hearing your d’vei kut from the women’s section, half embarrassed and half utterly proud to call you my father.
When I close my eyes and think of you, Abba, I think of you singing Shabbat z’mirot. The same songs your parents, grandparents, and ancestors sang. And when you sang those nigunim, Abba, I could feel each one of them dancing in heaven.
I remember you dropping me off at movies as a teenager and shouting out the window, “Don’t forget to be a bat Torah!” You never cared what anybody thought, which was so unique and refreshing. You said what you thought.
You created amazing memories by taking us on Sunday fun day each week, and being Rabbi at pesach programs even though you hated it. Just so that your family could have a vacation. You did so much for the family, Abba, everything you did for the family.
But the truth is it’s your neshama that’s had the biggest impact on me. The way you prayed, the way you cried, the way you hugged me, the way you entered Shabbat early as an island of time, the way you spoke about the Hasidic masters and your teachers, the way you loved going to the Rabbi’s tish. The way you raised your three girls to see, indeed, in Judaism there is a place for women.
Unconventional was your middle name, and that’s what I loved so much about you. Abba, you wore your emotions outside of your body, which wasn’t always easy but it was certainly of the truth.
No, Abba, you didn’t choose the easy path in life. You didn’t choose the path of doing what everyone else did. You were a rebel. But truly a rebel with a cause.
Your cause was to force everyone to go to uncomfortable places and reassess their values. Your cause was simply to help those in need who don’t have anyone else to turn to. Your cause was to follow your heart whether people liked it or not and do what was right. Your cause was to be willing to suffer and take criticism if it meant helping more people.
And, indeed, many people didn’t like it. Can I say that it didn’t affect you? No, it did. Deeply. But, Abba, that’s always what I found so inspiring about you—that you didn’t have a heart of stone.
It’s not a coincidence that you died on Rosh Chodesh Adar. Your entire life was dedicated to something so high, not your own simcha, Abba, but rather other people’s simcha. The simcha of the single mother who finally got a refrigerator, the Holocaust survivor who finally got food and a visitor, the simchas of Israeli soldiers who we just visited last week together. You lived your life out of bringing a taste of Adar to those who were stuck in the month of Av.
I know, Abba, that you had so many regrets especially about our childhood. You spoke about your regrets of being Rabbi at the shul far away and having the family wait for you to eat until late in the day. You spoke about your regrets that you weren’t there enough for me and didn’t know what I needed. But, Abba, you always gave me exactly what I needed: love, unconditional love.
You gave me the space that I need to be my unique self with the safety net of being there when I need you. If there’s one thing all of us girls can say about you, Abba, it’s that we always knew that you were there for us, with anything at any time.
Abba, you are already so missed and it’s only been a day. How will go on without speaking to you every Friday before Shabbat? How will we have pesach seder without hearing your songs? How will we light Hanukkah candles without dancing in a circle and you yelling out “Switch!”
How will we have family smachot without you there? How will I never get another bracha from you on Friday night wrapped in your big bear hug? I honestly don’t know the answer.
You’ve always been our security. You’ve always been bigger than life. The one who will save us if anything goes wrong. The one who always has a remedy and an answer for any problem. What now?
I know, Abba, that in this world we’re crying but you, Abba, are finally getting the wings you deserve. The seat next to the throne of glory where you will finally hear your praises for dedicating your life to chesed, sanctifying God’s name, uniting God’s children, and not resting because the work wasn’t done. Or how you simplified it: a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
I’m sorry, Abba. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you more often how proud I am of you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you more often how much I look up to you and respect you and cherish your every word. I’m sorry if even from your family you didn’t get the enormous recognition that you deserve.
I love you. I love you forever. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for being here with us. Thank you for leaving a legacy for our children and grandchildren that they will be so proud of and, b’ezrat HaShem, yearn to emulate.
Watch over us, Abba. As you always do.Tags: IFCJ Reflections on Rabbi Eckstein