International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
|Founded||1983 (originally known as the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews)|
|Type||501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization|
|Focus||"To promote understanding and cooperation between Jews and Christians and to build broad support for the State of Israel."|
|Method||Raising funds among its partners to help Jews in need and Jews living under the threat of anti-Semitism on five continents with programs which include aliyah (immigration) to Israel; providing basic necessities to needy families, the elderly and children in Israel; providing basic necessities including food, clothing and shelter to destitute Jews in the former Soviet Union; and providing informational and educational materials that help people become better advocates for the Jewish state.|
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (also The Fellowship) is a philanthropic organization founded in 1983 by Yechiel Eckstein whose stated goal is to promote understanding and cooperation between Jews and Christians, and build broad support for the State of Israel.
As the national Co-director of Interreligious Affairs for the Anti-Defamation League in Chicago, Eckstein, an Orthodox rabbi, began to forge partnerships with evangelical Christians. In 1983, he established the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews to promote Jewish-Christian cooperation on projects for improving the safety and security of Jews in Israel and around the world.
In 1991, the organization was renamed the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
The Fellowship collects over $100 million a year in donations for Israel, half of which are spent in Israel itself, supporting soup kitchens, absorption centers and bomb shelter renovations. $25 million a year is spent on Jewish aid programs.
In 2003, Eckstein founded the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of Canada; in 2006, La Fraternidad Internacional de Cristianos y Judíos;, in 2012, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of Australia, and, also in 2012, a new Fellowship affiliate in South Korea.
The organization has headquarters in Chicago and Jerusalem. It is supervised by an independent board of directors, Jewish and Christian. In May 2010, Israel’s Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog presented Eckstein with the government of Israel's first-ever Award for Special Contribution to the Welfare of the People of Israel. The following month, Newsweek named him one of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America. Eckstein has received about 50 awards total for his public service work, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s prestigious Raoul Wallenberg award in 2014.
In 2005, Eckstein was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of the State of Israel, with special emphasis on Israel’s relationships with evangelical communities in Latin America.
The Fellowship's outreach focuses on five major programs:
- On Wings of Eagles assists Jews in making aliyah (immigration) to Israel from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, Europe, Arab lands, and other countries around the world, and helps them with their klitah (resettlement).
- Guardians of Israel provides basic necessities to needy Israelis by supporting hundreds of projects such as soup kitchens, and by providing food, clothing and basic medical assistance to be distributed while addressing long-term needs like housing, family care, and jobs.
- Isaiah 58 provides food packages, hot “meals-on-wheels,” medicine, in-home care, housing, heating fuel, clothing, and other basic essentials to more than 200,000 destitute elderly Soviet Jews, and gives Jewish orphans and vulnerable street children in the former Soviet Union the care they need to survive and prepare for a brighter future.
- Stand for Israel rallies churches, Christian leaders and others to advocate for Israel by praying for her and supporting her right to exist in peace and security.
- 4Zion is a pro-Israel initiative geared toward students and a younger generation of Israel supporters.
The organization also supports the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, a group led by Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth, which aims to increase the number of Christian Arabs volunteering to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
The Fellowship is recognized as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization by the IRS. It submits to examination by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. In 2004, The Fellowship was one of the first not-for-profits entitled to display the BBB Charity Seal, showing full compliance with their Standards for Charitable Accountability.
Support and opposition
In 2009, six months before his death, the Lithuanian-haredi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv issued a ruling banning Jews from taking funds from the Fellowship, citing worries of Christian missionary activity and idol worship. In response to the ruling, Eckstein said he would "expose his organization's list of haredi-religious beneficiaries in order "to make sure everything is transparent."
The Fellowship's interfaith work has generated criticism from some in the Jewish community. In 2001, Rabbi Avraham Shapira issued a ruling against accepting funds from the Fellowship. In 2002 the Edah HaChareidis rabbinical court issued a ruling against accepting funds from the Fellowship, and, in 2007, the new Chief Rabbi of the Edah HaChareidis, Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss added his signature.
James Rudin, a senior inter-religious adviser for the American Jewish Community, described Eckstein as "well-respected within the American Jewish mainstream. Until he came along, evangelicals and Jews were like ships passing in the night."
In 2014, many Religious Zionist rabbis reiterated their position that it is forbidden to take money from the IFCJ. Religious Zionist rabbis claim the enrollment of many Israeli children in summer camps problematic, as the Israeli Ministry of Education utilizes IFCJ money to partially funds their camps.
In 2014, Eckstein was awarded the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s prestigious Raoul Wallenberg Award. "Rabbi Eckstein and IFCJ have done so much to help so many of the world’s most vulnerable Jews and we are proud of all that we have done together to reach so many in need," JDC CEO Alan Gill said at the ceremony, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended.
Below is a timeline of The Fellowship's key events, as listed on the organization's webpage.
- 1983 — Yechiel Eckstein founds the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
- 1984 — Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell join Rabbi Eckstein at the First Day of Christian and Jewish Solidarity with Israel.
- 1985 — 6,000 Ethiopian Jews are airlifted to Israel in Operation Moses, prompting The Fellowship to help fund resettlement programs for new Ethiopian immigrants.
- 1986 — Seminar tour to Israel kicks off major effort to increase tourism to Israel and help the Israeli economy by marketing Israeli products.
- 1987 — Eckstein makes regular TV and radio appearances to discuss Israel, Jews, Judaism, and Jewish-Christian relations.
- 1988 — "Ask the Rabbi", The Fellowship's nationally syndicated radio program, begins airing predominantly on Christian stations.
- 1989 — Eckstein addresses 2,500 Christians at nationwide Feast of Tabernacles event in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- 1990 — The Fellowship launches the On Wings of Eagles program to bring Soviet Jews to Israel following the collapse of the USSR.
- 1991 — The Holyland Fellowship becomes the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
- 1992 — The first group of Russian Jews is airlifted to Israel through The Fellowship's On Wings of Eagles program.
- 1993 — Through the Operation Exodus program, The Fellowship presents an additional $100,000 to bring Ethiopian Jews home to Israel.
- 1994 — The 1,000th Russian Jew from The Fellowship's On Wings of Eagles program arrives in Israel.
- 1995 — The Fellowship opens The Center for Jewish and Christian Values in Washington, D.C.
- 1996 — Operation Alert is launched to fight religious persecution around the world.
- 1997 — The Fellowship creates the Isaiah 58 program to provide food, clothing, medical help, and lifesaving aid for orphans and elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union.
- 1998 — $2 million is donated by evangelical Christians to rescue the Jews of Kwara, Ethiopia, and bring them to Israel through the On Wings of Eagles program.
- 2000 — The Fellowship's Jerusalem office opens, and the Guardians of Israel program is launched to help families suffering from poverty and terrorism in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.
- 2001 — As the second uprising among Palestinian Arabs in protest of the continued Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank begins in Israel, the devastation wrought by suicide bombers motivates The Fellowship to establish the Israeli Victims of Terror Fund.
- 2002 — The Fellowship initiates Stand for Israel to mobilize U.S. churches, Christian leadership, and individuals to express their solidarity with the Jewish state through prayer and advocacy. The first International Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel mobilizes millions of Christians to pray for Israel.
- 2003 — Eckstein founds the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of Canada, a sister organization to The Fellowship.
- 2004 — The Fellowship launches Operation Safe Bus to safeguard public buses that transport as many as 1.7 million Israelis each day.
- 2005 — The Fellowship sponsors its first tour for Israel for Fellowship supporters.
- 2006 — The Fellowship, through the Guardians of Israel program, is the first organization to deliver emergency food and supplies for people living in bomb shelters during the Second Lebanon War, while the On Wings of Eagles program helps 200 of the Bnei Menashe, descendants of the biblical tribe of Manasseh living in India, and 200 Iranian Jews make aliyah to Israel.
- 2007 — The Fellowship's Guardians of Israel program donates $10 million to help refurbish bomb shelters in northern Israel and the community of Sderot bordering Gaza.
- 2008 — The Fellowship's Guardians of Israel program renovates 32 public bomb shelters in Sderot, which for years has suffered daily rocket attacks.
- 2009 — The Fellowship distributes more than $10.5 million to assist 27,785 Holocaust survivors in desperate need in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Latin America, and Europe.
- 2011 — The Fellowship is voted one of the "Top 50 Best Nonprofits to Work For" by The Non-Profit Times.
- 2011 — The Fellowship launches 4zion website.
- 2011 — Yael Eckstein is appointed as The Fellowship’s Senior Vice President.
- 2012 — The Fellowship establishes a new affiliate in South Korea.
- 2012 — The Fellowship distributes a $2.7 million aid package to cities in southern Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense.
- 2013 — The Fellowship helps make possible the final aliyah of Jews in Ethiopia, members of the Lost Tribe of Dan.
- 2013 — The Fellowship launches its With Dignity and Fellowship program, which provides food, medicine, and companionship to all of the neediest elderly in Israel – this is the first program The Fellowship runs entirely on its own, without partnering with any other organization to staff, supply, or sustain the program.
- 2014 — The Fellowship distributes more than $3.4 million to provide aid to Israelis in need during Operation Protective Edge.
- 2014 — The Fellowship provides more than $1.7 million to aid Ukrainian Jews during a period of extreme civil unrest.
- 2014 — The Fellowship launches its own aliyah program, which is initiated by two flights bringing hundreds of Jewish refugees from war-torn Ukraine to Israel.
- International Council of Christians and Jews, an unrelated group also engaged in Christian-Jewish dialogue
- IFCJ: Who We Are
- "The Jewneric Leadership Series: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein", The Jewneric Leadership Series, Jewneric, retrieved July 10, 2012
- Israel's money man gets funds for Holy Land from Evangelical Christians, Haaretz
- International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of Canada
- La Fraternidad Internacional de Cristianos y Judíos
- International Fellowship of Christians and Jews of Australia
- Rabbi Honored for Special Contribution to Israel, YNet News, retrieved July 10, 2012
- Michael Lynton, Gary Ginsberg (June 28, 2010). "The Fifty Most Influential Rabbis in America Newsweek". Newsweek. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- On Wings of Eagles
- Guardians of Israel
- Isaiah 58
- Stand for Israel
- In Heartwarming Christmas Story, IDF Welcomes More Pro-Israel Christian Arabs. Abra Forman. December 23, 2015
- "Charity Review, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews", BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Better Business Bureau, retrieved July 10, 2012
- Rabbi Elyashiv: Refuse Money from IFCJ
- John W. Kennedy (Feb 2009), The Ultimate Kibitzer, Christianity Today, retrieved July 12, 2012
- "About The Fellowship"
- The NonProfit Times' 50 Best Nonprofits To Work For 2011, The Non-Profit Times, May 5, 2011, retrieved July 12, 2012