Between Grieving and Leading
Yael Eckstein | August 14, 2019
Every time I visit Chicago, different emotions emerge that echo the different stages in my life.
Until I went to college, Chicago was the only home I ever knew. Even after I made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) with my husband, Chicago still felt like home. However, as the years passed I connected deeply to Israel. Now, 15 years later, I love visiting America, but each time I return to Israel, I am reminded that there is no place like my true home.
This year is no different. Being back in Chicago has been an emotional experience, different from other visits. It is my first time back in my childhood home and the Fellowship offices since my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, died unexpectedly 6 months ago.
When he passed away, I quickly learned to compartmentalize my two roles as president of The Fellowship and as Rabbi Eckstein’s daughter. At the funeral, and when I observed the traditional seven days of mourning with my family, I was just a daughter in mourning.
However, as soon as I stepped foot into the office, I was the president of The Fellowship. When I left work, I was again a daughter who missed her father deeply (and still does). However, if there was an urgent matter that needed my attention at The Fellowship, I immediately switched back into my leadership role.
This dance between daughter and decision maker, mourner and leader, is allowing me to steer The Fellowship in the right direction. It allows me to think clearly and make important decisions, together with our executive leadership, that make us strong and efficient. I am grateful to God for giving me the ability to do so.
However, there was one time when I could not keep these boundaries, and my defenses fell to the ground. I entered my father’s office in Chicago and sat at his desk. I had sat on the other side of that desk for over a decade meeting with my father. Sitting on the on his side was emotionally challenging, to say the least.
When I first sat in my father’s chair in the Israel office just a few weeks after losing him, I wondered how I would go on without him. I did not know how I would lead without my father and mentor.
When I entered my father’s office in Chicago a few weeks ago, the experience was similar in some ways, yet very different in others. It was difficult to step into the office where he worked for decades. But this time I am not filled with the same questions about the future that I had when I sat at his desk in Jerusalem.
I now know that we can go on. While I wish that I was working alongside him, I know that we – the Fellowship’s wonderful team and me – can go on and further the work my father began. In fact, it is a testimony to his hard work and talent that The Fellowship has only become stronger since his passing. In his lifetime, my father carefully selected a staff and set up a system that works without him. He had a long-term vision and understood that the ministry was not about him, but rather the hundreds of thousands who depend on us daily.
This time, as I sat in my father’s chair, at his desk, in his office, I felt peace. My abba is with the Abba of us all, and I know that they are both smiling down on us as we continue the sacred mission of bringing Christians and Jews together in order to serve God’s purposes and bring Glory to His Kingdom.