During the week of Shiva when my family and I sat in mourning for my father, Rabbi Eckstein, hundreds of people filed in and out of his house to offer words of comfort and share our pain. Many of the visitors shared stories about him that I had never heard before. Each one revealed another special part of my father that I will cherish forever.
One story that really captured the essence of my father came from the chief Rabbi of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. Rabbi Pinchus Vinshevsky and his wife flew to Israel just to visit our family and pay their respects.
The rabbi told me that when the war in Eastern Ukraine broke out, he reached out to every person and organization he could think of to ask for help. However, no one answered him. It was no easy task to rescue an entire Jewish community during a war. Yet, when the Rabbi wrote to The Fellowship requesting aid, he got a personal call from my father the very same day.
My father asked the Rabbi if he was still in war-torn Donetsk. The Rabbi explained that he and his family would be the last ones to leave, putting the rest of the community first. His problem was that he had no idea how to get any Jews of the war zone. To the surprise of the Rabbi, my father responded, “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
The Rabbi immediately told my father not to come the following day. There was a war going on! All of the streets were closed, there were rockets flying in the air, and shells falling all around. But my father simply said, “See you tomorrow,” and the next day he went.
My father arrived safely at the Rabbi’s home where, together, they came up with a plan to evacuate the Jewish community. The plan was successful and the people were moved to a Jewish summer campsite, out of the war zone.
The Rabbi and his wife told me that what impressed them was not just that my father helped bring the community to safety, but that he was also concerned about their own personal wellbeing. He took Rabbi Vinshevsky aside and told him that he understood what it meant to care about everyone else and put others first. He told him that The Fellowship would fund the evacuation of the community on the condition that the Rabbi would accept personal assistance as well. My father took note that this couple had a family to support. He recognized their being in Donetsk was a huge self-sacrifice. He insisted that they accept money and made them promise to use it only for themselves.
To me, this story summed up what my father’s work was all about for the last 35 years. He travelled on behalf of Christians in America to places where no one else would go, to help people at the macro level – the community level – without forgetting about the micro, the individuals. He lived by the verse: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act” (Proverbs 3:27). Whenever my father could help out, he did – whether on behalf of thousands of people or just one.
As I step into my father’s position, I will follow in his footsteps. I will continue to serve large communities all over the world while honoring the needs of every individual. Each person is a child of God, created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27), and deserves to be treated accordingly – just like my father did.