March 13, 2019 — The late founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (Keren L’Yedidut), Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, was honored and memorialized in Israel and abroad as the thirty-day period of mourning (Shloshim) for his passing came to a close last week.
Among the many who honored the memory of Rabbi Eckstein were members of the elderly population, many of whom’s lives have been touched by The Fellowship. In Jerusalem, a ceremony commemorating Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein was held on March 4 at the “Beit Rachel” club for the elderly in which dozens of Tanachs (Hebrew Bibles) recorded in Hebrew and Russian were distributed to attendees. The Tanachs were sponsored by Dana Anderson, one of The Fellowship’s primary donors in the United States. Staff members from The Fellowship helped train and teach the elderly how to operate the kits containing the recorded Tanachs.
“A large portion of The Fellowship’s work has dealt with serving the needs of the most vulnerable populations in Israel, particularly the elderly and immigrants from the former Soviet Union,” said President of The Fellowship, Yael Eckstein. “It was most fitting for us to honor my father’s legacy in this fashion.”
The Fellowship will be distributing such kits in other elderly clubs as part of its program to reduce loneliness amongst Israel’s elderly population. The Fellowship already provides such clubs with furniture, coffee corners, games and warm blankets and sponsors activities throughout the year, which give the elderly an opportunity to leave their homes and to enrich their lives.
Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spoke of Rabbi Eckstein’s impact on religious educational institutions, in marking the end of the shloshim period. “We are indebted with gratitude to Rabbi Eckstein of blessed memory who contributed and supported religious institutions and showed kindness to the needy. Everything he did was for the best. He helped establish the dormitory in the Haredi College of Jerusalem, thus enabling students who were mothers to continue their studies. These merits along many others on his part will stand before him in the Heavens before the Throne of Glory. May his dear family be consoled.”
Echoing Adina Bar-Shalom’s remarks was Mizrachi-Religious Zionists of America. “(Rabbi Eckstein’s) work and the relationships he developed were a Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of God’s name). We are comforted by the knowledge that his work will continue and be passed on to the next generation. Rabbi Eckstein was truly a trailblazer in his efforts to fund security, medical and emergency needs for Israelis and indeed, for the needy in other countries as well.”
Rabbi Eckstein’s legacy of commitment and work for needy Jews around the world is already starting to bear fruits for the next generation. Chamah, an outreach organization for Jews from the former Soviet Union, dedicated a Torah scroll in his memory during the shloshim period. Chamah’s director, Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman said: “Following the week of shiva (first 7 days of mourning) for Rabbi Eckstein himself, with heavy hearts we began writing a Torah at our National Russian Shabbaton in Stamford, CT, in his merit. The ceremony was attended by over 1,000 people, and many Jews who had never seen a Torah scroll in their lives, wrote a letter in his honor.
“To carry on Rabbi Eckstein’s mission of feeding the hungry and his dedication to celebrating Judaism, the extensive Chamah Passover programs in Moscow will be dedicated to the righteous memory of Yechiel Tvi ben Shimon,” Rabbi Zaltzman added. “Over 2,500 Jews will attend our Seders in four locations around Moscow, and 4,000 food packages will be distributed to the needy and elderly. May his memory be a blessing.”
Rabbi Eckstein’s impact was felt even in countries such as Morocco that have a very small number of Jews remaining. The country’s Chabad Rabbi Levi Banon remarked: “Reb Yechiel always had the right words of encouragement for me and our work in Morocco. He came personally for a visit to strengthen our community. He was always enthusiastic about receiving Nachas (pleasurable) reports from projects undertaken and was especially excited to hear about new projects. Reb Yechiel will be dearly missed!” To mark the end of shloshim, Morocco’s Chabad house hosted a Shabbaton (a special Shabbat of activities) and dedicated weekly classes on March 4 and 5 in the memory of Rabbi Eckstein.
“We are overcome with emotion over how many lives have been touched by Rabbi Eckstein and the work of The Fellowship. The stories and accounts continue to come in and are endless,” President Eckstein said. “The work goes on, and I’m confident that The Fellowship will only get stronger and continue to help even more people.”