(February 6, 2019 / JNS) Israeli American Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, whose life goal was to promote a dialogue between Jews and Christians, died on Wednesday at the age of 67 from sudden heart failure.
Born in New York City, he held dual citizenship, having become an Israeli citizen in 2002.
Eckstein founded the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1983; he previously served as the Anti-Defamation League’s national co-director of inter-religious affairs.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told JNS, “We are saddened by Yechiel Eckstein’s sudden passing. He was a tireless worker for the Jewish people and for Israel, and he made significant contributions by fostering evangelical support for Israel. We send our deepest condolences to his family.”
Rabbi Noam Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, told JNS: “Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein was a pioneer in evangelical-Jewish relations as it relates to the State of Israel and Christian support for the in-gathering of the exiles. His legendary fundraising supported Jews in need and for that we must be grateful.”
Under Eckstein’s leadership, IFCJ raised more than $1.3 billion, or $140 million annually, mostly from evangelical Christians, to help the State of Israel and Jews.
IFCJ has helped immigrants move to Israel from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Ukraine and other places, and has assisted them in Israel such as providing food care packages for Jewish holidays.
“The Jewish people have lost … a leader who worked tirelessly on their behalf. I worked with Rabbi Eckstein on social welfare, the Diaspora and aliyah,” said Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog. “My deep condolences to his family and the entire International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.”
‘A titan of our generation’
Reactions from other parts of the Jewish world poured in following Eckstein’s death.
“I am in shock that my dear friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has passed away. He spoke publicly at my son’s Bar Mitzvah just two nights ago. How can this be? He did incalculable good. I wish great comfort to his family,” tweeted Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
I am in shock that my dear friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has passed away. He spoke publicly at my son’s Bar Mitzvah just two nights ago. How can this be? He did incalculable good. I wish great comfort to his family.
— Rabbi Shmuley (@RabbiShmuley) February 6, 2019
“I am in shock. And so sad,” tweeted former Knesset member Rabbi Dov Lipman. “Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews passed away suddenly. A heart that gave and gave and gave stopped working. May his memory be a source of blessing for all who knew him and were touched by him.”
I am in shock. And so sad.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews passed away suddenly.
A heart that gave and gave and gave stopped working …
May his memory be a source of blessing for all who knew him and were touched by him. pic.twitter.com/ttsSco5DLG
— Dov Lipman (@DovLipman) February 6, 2019
Dan Mariaschin, CEO and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International told JNS: “He was a tireless campaigner and advocate for good relations between Christians and Jews, as evidenced by the extensive work of his organization. His voice in these relationships will be missed.”
Robert Nicholson, Philos Project founder and executive director, told JNS: “Rabbi Eckstein was a pioneer who helped create the space for Jewish-Christian cooperation that so many of us take for granted today. Back when Jews and Christians were still unsure about each other, Rabbi Eckstein was charting a bold course based on a big vision. His legacy is the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives that he touched by putting shared values in the service of tangible good. He was a truly a titan of our generation and will be missed.”
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. His impact on the State of Israel and on bringing Jews and Christians together will be felt for generations,” Christians United for Israel founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee told JNS. “I pray God brings comfort to the rabbi’s family during this very difficult time, and I know that his memory will be a blessing to us all.”
The funeral is scheduled for Thursday in Jerusalem.
Eckstein is survived by his wife, Joelle; three daughters; and eight grandchildren.