Finding Strength in the Light

Yael Eckstein  |  April 11, 2024

Yael Eckstein with yellow fortified ambulance which IFCJ provided to Magen David Adom. It was hit by bullets during Operation Swords of Iron.
(Photo: Guy Yechiely)

Six months ago on October 7, the inconceivable happened along the southern border of Israel. The horrific events of that day marked the greatest loss of Jewish lives in a single day since the Holocaust.

Six months ago, life changed irrevocably for millions of Israelis. In the tiny country of Israel which is the size of New Jersey and where everyone feels like family, more than 1,200 of our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, and family were brutally torn from the security of their homes and murdered. 

More than two hundred innocent Israelis were taken as hostages. Today, 130 Israelis still remain as hostages somewhere in Gaza. For six months, family and friends have lived in agonizing uncertainty, not even knowing whether their loved ones are still alive.

Within hours of the terrorist attacks, our sons and daughters, husbands, and fathers, were called up by the Israel Defense Forces to defend our tiny nation – the only Jewish country in the world- from Hamas, whose stated goal and mission is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. In an instant, we went from the celebration the Sabbath and the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, to war.

I remember that day so clearly. I was in synagogue for the celebration of Simchat Torah, the annual celebration of God’s Word and the beginning of a new year of reading the Torah all over again. It was the closing holiday of the holiest time on the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (the Festival of Tabernacles). 

That day had begun as a wonderful time with family, and a spiritually rich time for me in deepening my relationship with God. As I walked to synagogue with my daughters, I told them how energized I felt and how I was eagerly awaiting what God had in store for our family, for me, and for the organization I am privileged to lead, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. 

The Fellowship had so much work to do in helping the Jewish people around the world in the previous two years, especially in war-torn Ukraine, and we believed it was our calling expanding our reach and help more people. I told was ready for the challenge.

Little did I know that morning how quickly our world would change and how our focus for the next six months would shift to caring for victims, Israelis who had become refugees in their own country, and protecting those in the north vulnerable to attacks from Hezbollah.

The first hint that something was terribly wrong was when the phones began buzzing in the pockets of the men who were dancing with the Torah. We all knew what that meant. Israel was under attack. Men in the armed forces reserves were being called up for duty. 

News began filtering in. A kibbutz had been overrun by Hamas. Dozens had been kidnapped. People were hurt at a festival. Immediately and involuntarily, my soul exploded. I broke down in uncontrollable tears, holding tight to my two daughters as we struggled to make sense of the incoming reports. My thoughts were racing – was this it? Was this the end of my country, my family, my life? Would we still be here tomorrow?

As the hours went by, and we learned the extent of this horrific attack, my heart grew heavier, and I felt the anguish within me grow. How can this be happening today, in Israel, in a land where we believed we were safe from an existential crisis – where we would be spared from further expulsions, persecutions, pogroms, and yes, even another Holocaust?

I felt as the prophet Jeremiah did as he looked out on the destruction of his beloved city, Jerusalem: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me” (Lamentations 3:19-20).

Six months later, it seems like once again, the world has turned its back on Israel. Anti-Semitism and all its ugliness has spiraled out of control. Our enemies, through a vicious campaign of lies, have turned many against Israel. It is as the prophet Isaiah had foretold of the end days – good would be called evil, and evil good. 

Yes, six months have passed, and dark times are still ahead as we continue our struggle to eliminate forever the threat from terrorists who are still operating on nearly all of our borders, and to bring each and every hostage home. Yet, as Jeremiah also so beautifully reminded us, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 5:21-22).

Tomorrow has come, and we are still here. We do have hope. We are not alone. We have found comfort and strength from each other and from the millions of Christians around the world who have not left our side and who have supported Israel and the Jewish people through their prayers and their love.

Over the past six months, millions of Christian supporters and friends of Israel and the Jewish people have answered The Fellowship’s call with immediate, bold, and sacrificial giving. And, because of that, we have been able to allocate and distribute more than $40 million in emergency aid to communities and residents in regions of Israel most heavily affected by the devastating terror attacks.

I am heartened, too, by the spirit of resiliency and strength of my fellow Israelis, like Adele Raemer, who survived the terrorist attack on her beloved kibbutz, which was less than a mile from the Gaza border. She was forced to evacuate along with her daughter and two granddaughters. “We are refugees in our own land,” Adele says, and even though the attacks on Oct. 7 “destroyed the sense of security we used to feel in our homes and in our land,” she pledges to return one day to her home. 

Binyamin Altshul, who works in The Fellowship’s Jerusalem office and was called up for reserve duty within hours of the attack, said he finds solace in the feeling of shared destiny that united all Israelis immediately after Oct. 7. “We are now part of the chain of Jewish people who have had to fight for their independence, and we are participating in that together,” he said. “I pray that this feeling of shared destiny will continue to be a central part of Israeli society and that everyone will feel that they have a role as part of the Israeli state and society.”

Twenty-three-year-old Noa Kalash, who was at the Nova Festival and survived the terrorist attack by hiding for hours in the desert underbrush, has dedicated her life to telling her story and building awareness around the world about the truth of those attacks. At the same time, she continues to mourn for the loss of her best friends who were murdered that day and pray for the return of another friend who is still being held hostage.

There is light within this darkness, and I believe with all my heart that as long as we hold steadfast to the light, to our faith, and to each other, we will prevail.

I turn to my faith, to the God of Israel, who never slumbers nor sleeps, whose eye is on His beloved people and land from sunrise to sunset. And I recall again Jeremiah’s words: “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:25-26).

Yes, I will wait. I will hope. I will look for the light. And I will believe that goodness and truth will triumph.

With blessings from the Holy Land,

Yael Eckstein's Signature

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