JERUSALEM, April 25, 2018 — As part of its annual pilgrimage to the Tomb of Jethro, the Druze community today honored Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president and founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), for the organization’s longtime, steadfast support of the Druze in Israel and Syria.
The ceremony was held as part of the Druze pilgrimage to the tomb honoring the Prophet Shuaib, a central holiday for the community. Attending the ceremony was Minister of Communications Ayoub Kara, Druze leader Sheikh Muwafak Tarif, hundreds of Druze and other religious figures, Knesset members, mayors, and thousands of citizens. Eckstein became the first Jew and rabbi to receive the commendation from the Druze during the holiday event.
“We will not forget your great contribution to the advancement of young Druze men and women,” Tarif told Eckstein in giving him the commendation. “We will not forget your assistance of the elderly and needy families, and especially your mobilization for the Druze refugees who fled Syria. Your great contribution to the Druze and other groups in Israel will not be forgotten, and therefore you deserve this letter of commendation, given to you at this holy position in the tomb of Jethro.”
In receiving the honor, Eckstein responded: “I cannot describe to you the great joy in my heart in receiving this honor. I have received many awards in my life, but this surpasses all of them.”
Eckstein added: “There are a lot of gaps in the Israeli economy and in the welfare sector that can easily be closed in order to advance Israeli Arabs, Druze, Christians, Muslims and Bedouin. We at The Fellowship are helping, but it is the state’s responsibility to close these gaps and the state can and must do more.”
Eckstein also addressed Sheikh Tarif directly. “I want to say something personal to Sheikh Tarif: Three years ago, I traveled with you to Jordan to help Druze refugees who fled there because of the war in Syria. I saw that you are not only the leader of the community here in Israel but of the entire Druze community in the Middle East. The Druze have the ability and the duty to unite all of our communities so they can cease hostilities and cooperate. We both wish that all the communities and religions in the Middle East can live together in peace.”
Since 2006, The Fellowship has been supporting the Druze community in a variety of programs through 16 Druze councils as part of its national welfare programs, as well as specific programs for promoting and integrating members of the community in economics, education and employment. Among the various forms of assistance are scholarships for hundreds of young men and women from the community, emergency aid to hundreds of Druze refugees who fled from Syria to Jordan, social assistance to needy families, support for youth movements, renovation of shelters and more.
Tarif was among those chosen this year to light a torch in Israel’s Independence Day official ceremony, for his efforts to build bridges between Israel’s different people – just as Eckstein has become known as “the bridge builder” for connecting Christians and Jews in support of Israel.