Rabbi Eckstein’s Legacy
How do you begin to break down barriers and ease hostilities that have built up over 2,000 years? How do you build bridges between two groups whose histories have been marked more by distrust, hate, and fear than cooperation, love, and compassion?
“I felt God calling me to do the impossible.”
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
It takes a calling.
A young Rabbi in Chicago encountered an evangelical pastor and was shocked to discover a love for Israel that mirrored his own. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein later said of this moment, “I felt God calling me to do the impossible: to build bridges of cooperation and healing and understanding between Christians and Jews.”
He had worked with Christians before in an effort to increase their understanding of the Jewish community and Judaism. However, Rabbi Eckstein never imagined that he would become the “cornerstone” (the meaning of Eckstein) in uniting God’s children or that this holy work, as he said, “would be as successful as God has made it.”
It takes courage.
When Reverend Bailey Smith of the Southern Baptist Convention said, “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew,” Rabbi Eckstein saw an opportunity where most in the Jewish community only saw offense. After inviting Rev. Smith to Israel, a friendship was born that would impact the relationship between Christians and Jews for decades to come.
Rabbi Eckstein endured years of criticism from Jews and Christians alike for his willingness to walk in both worlds and defend his friends on both sides. He approached the role of mediator with a smile, and dedicated himself to building bridges.
It takes commitment.
While many others might have been distracted by the national attention and friendships with powerful figures, Rabbi Eckstein remained ever focused on his calling. As his ministry grew, so did his compassion. Everywhere he went, he found Jews searching for love and understanding, and Christians who were longing to extend it. He spent his life bringing them together in fellowship.
Rabbi Eckstein built bridges that challenged history, defied convention, and ultimately brought healing to the world. Today, the ministry he founded blesses millions of Christians and Jews around the world. Today, Christians are the Jews’ best friends and Israel’s greatest allies.
Through Rabbi Eckstein’s ministry, Christians are partaking in the blessing found in the Bible that says God will bless those who bless His people (Genesis 12:3). They are fulfilling prophecy by helping Jews return to the promised land of Israel (Isaiah 49:22). They are observing God’s true fast by feeding hungry Holocaust survivors (Isaiah 58:6-7). They are praying for the peace of Jerusalem by providing security to those threatened in Israel (Psalm 122:6).
None of this would have happened were it not for the calling, courage, and commitment of one man.
But his legacy does not end there. Rabbi Eckstein’s greatest hope was that this ministry would, “grow even more, to embrace even more people who will catch this vision of peace, reconciliation, healing, and love between God’s children.”
“I feel like God is taking my hands and leading me.”
Before he left this world, Rabbi Eckstein reaffirmed that his daughter, Yael Eckstein, had also “caught this vision.” And with Rabbi Eckstein’s blessing, she too can say, “I feel like God is taking my hands and leading me to the places where I’m supposed to be involved, where I’m supposed to make a difference.”
Rabbi Eckstein’s life was a testament to a simple fact: once someone has been touched by God, amazing things can happen. And through Yael, those amazing things will continue.