Father’s Day Without My Father

As far back as I can remember my father began every day earlier than the rest of our household. Day in and day out, my abba, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, would wake up at 5:00 in the morning so that he would have time to pray and study the Bible before heading out for the day. He arrived at his office at 7:00 each morning ready to put in another long day following his vision of building bridges between the Jewish and Christian communities.

I didn’t have a clue about what my father did every day when I was little, and I had no idea that his work would change the world. All I knew was that he worked very hard each day and came home just before my older sisters and I went to bed. Tired from another long day, my father did not crash on the sofa or head straight to the kitchen. He made it a priority to put us to bed.

I can still hear him reciting the shema prayer with us at night, singing the traditional Hebrew lullabies, and rubbing my back until I fell into a peaceful slumber.  He would tell us, “The one thing that I can always give to you girls is my endless love.”

It has been four months since my father died suddenly, and this is my first Father’s Day without him. I am still trying to digest his absence from my life and come to terms with my new reality. At the same time, I am so grateful for all of the years we shared. While I wish we could have had more time together, I know that I received everything that a daughter could ever wish for from her father.

My father taught me about living passionately, working hard, and our obligation to bring goodness and godliness into the world. It was a blessing to work with him for 15 years and learn firsthand how to be an effective leader. However, my father’s greatest lesson to me was that no matter how important our work in the world might be, family always comes first. For my father, the most important title in the world (and he had many) was “abba.”

I have felt my father’s presence ever since his soul left his body. According to Jewish tradition, a righteous person is more powerful in death than in life. In life, physical limitations and laws of nature restrict us. However, the soul of a righteous person is unbound and can go beyond physicality to affect the world positively. This is the only way I can explain that, since my father’s passing, The Fellowship has grown stronger and more effective than ever before.

I know that my father is cheering me on in my new role as president of The Fellowship, but I also know that he is primarily concerned about me as his daughter. My father comes to me often in my dreams, but never as “Rabbi Eckstein,” founder of The Fellowship, my mentor and my boss for a decade-and-a-half. Every time my father appears to me it is always simply as “abba.”

On this Father’s Day, I am reflecting on how lucky I was to have a father like him. I pray that I follow his example as an effective leader, humble servant, and loving parent. I bless us all that we can celebrate this Father’s Day with a grateful heart — grateful for all of the loved ones who are with us today and those who are no longer with us in this world. Above all, I thank our heavenly Father, who loves us with an everlasting love for all of eternity.

With blessings from the Holy Land,

Tags: Father's Day Holidays IFCJ Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein The Fellowship Yael Eckstein

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