What I Learned from Rabbi Eckstein’s Life

The Fellowship  |  February 11, 2019

Rabbi Eckstein with his daughter and grand kids.

Like all other employees of The Fellowship, I am still in a state of shock from the sudden passing of our founder and leader, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. I live in Israel, so I was able to pay my respects and attend the Rabbi’s funeral just outside Jerusalem.

As I expected, there were several dignitaries in attendance, including American Ambassador David Friedman, members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), and former mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat. As I expected, there was standing room only in the funeral chapel due to the amount of people that had come to honor the Rabbi. And as I expected, the eulogies addressed the many extraordinary accomplishments of this great man.

But what I did not expect was the way Rabbi Eckstein’s family members spoke about him. Each one described Rabbi Eckstein the same way – as a devoted family man. In her eulogy, Yael Eckstein said, “There is 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 shut off from everything that’s going on at work and the craziness around you and focus on family with all of your heart.”

Rabbi Eckstein was one of the busiest people that I have ever encountered. I never would have guessed how much time and effort he invested in his family despite his packed schedule. One powerful moment that really touched me was at the burial when Rabbi Eckstein’s grandson sobbed, “I want Saba (Grandpa), I want Saba.” While it was difficult to see the pain that Rabbi Eckstein’s family experienced, it is also a testimony to the great love that he shared with them.

When Rabbi Eckstein’s brother delivered his eulogy, he mentioned that every Friday before the Sabbath, without fail, Rabbi Eckstein would call each of his children and siblings to wish them a Shabbat Shalom. No matter how hectic his schedule, not a week went by that Rabbi Eckstein did not speak with his family.

This resonated deeply with me. I had not spoken with some of my own siblings for quite a while. Of course, we intended to be in touch, but between raising kids, going to work, and managing our busy lives, it just didn’t happen nearly as often as I would like. I’m too busy, I would tell myself. Maybe one day when the kids are older and things are calmer, I’ll be better at keeping in touch. But as we all know, “one day” never comes and “now” is all we really have.

Rabbi Eckstein shattered my excuses. If he wasn’t too busy to call his family on a Friday afternoon, then how could I be?

This past Friday, I called each of my siblings before Shabbat (Sabbath) — something I plan to do every Friday from now on. Rabbi Eckstein reminded me that when we make family a priority, there is no such thing as being too busy for our loved ones. That is how he lived his life, and it is a message that I will carry with me for the rest of mine.