Remembering Our Humble Beginnings

Yael Eckstein  |  October 13, 2020

Rabbi Eckstein praying over his daughter while Jerusalem is in the background.

When my late father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founded The Fellowship 37 years ago, he encountered a lot of adversity. He spent long days at the office working hard to turn his vision of building bridges between Christians and Jews into reality, even as many people told him he would never succeed.

My father also endured painful criticism from leaders in both faith communities who questioned his motives and his mission. Yet, I didn’t know any of this while I was growing up. When my father came home at night, he was simply “Abba.” He left all of the stress behind.

Years later, when The Fellowship began to thrive, my father earned the respect of rabbis, pastors, presidents, prime ministers, and all kinds of leaders. The Fellowship became well known and my father was frequently recognized for his contributions. However, none of that honor and prestige affected his character. When he came home at night, he was still just “Abba,” the same affectionate, fun-loving, and humble father I had always known.

When I was older, my father explained that those early difficult years are what kept him humble in his later successful ones. He knew that his success could be attributed only to God and that things could have just as easily turned out differently. He never forgot his humble beginnings, and that kept him humble throughout his life.

A Gift from God

When my husband and I made aliyah (immigrated to Israel), I experienced my own humble beginning. Like my father, I had followed God’s calling, but found myself in a situation so challenging that I did not know if I would succeed.

Back in the U.S., I was a very confident and self-sufficient young adult. I knew the language, the culture, and the systems of how things worked. When I was 17, I moved from Chicago to New York to attend college and had no problem finding a place to live, opening a bank account, and holding down a part-time job. But as a 22-year-old newly-married woman in Israel, I felt nearly helpless as I struggled with a language I did not know and systems completely unfamiliar to me. It was a truly humbling experience.

I knew that with time I would learn to function in Israel, but I worried that I would never be able to use my talents or contribute to society when I couldn’t even speak the language. I was grateful to work at The Fellowship’s Jerusalem office, but started out working in the mailroom, putting stamps on letters. During that time, I would often pray to God to use me as His vessel to do great things, and to let me have a larger impact on my country and the world.

Today, 15 years later, I am blessed to serve as the president and CEO of The Fellowship. Yet, I dare not forget those prayers or my early years. Like my father, I know that my accomplishments can be attributed only to God. And I believe that remaining humble is the key to continued success in the future.

The Key to a Successful Future

This week, the Jewish people begin the annual Torah reading cycle, which covers the Five Books of Moses. In this week’s portion, we read about the creation of the world and humankind. The Jewish sages explained that while God could have created a world populated instantly by many people, He deliberately chose to start humanity from just one man. This way, no person in the future could claim that he or she had superior ancestry. We all come from Adam, who was made from adama, the Hebrew word for “earth.” Every single person comes from the same humble beginning.

Lately, wherever I look, I see division and animosity. Disunity seems to be plaguing both Israel and America. But if we can remember that we all come from the same humble beginning, we might treat others with more respect and compassion.

As I have learned from my father’s life, remaining humble is the key to a successful future. Moreover, the Bible tells us “Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). In that spirit, let us continue to raise our prayers to God, for ourselves, our loved ones, and our nations, in hopes that if we lean into our personal humility, we can create a space for national unity.

With blessings from the Holy Land,

Yael Eckstein's Signature

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