|Born||1951 (age 63–64)|
|Citizenship||American and Israeli|
|Known for||Founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews|
Eckstein holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel, having become an Israeli citizen in 2002.
Eckstein is the author of seven texts:
- What You Should Know About Jews and Judaism, ISBN 0-8499-0356-4 (May 1984)
- Understanding Evangelicals: A Guide for the Jewish Community (1992)
- Ask the Rabbi (1990)
- Five Questions Most Frequently Asked About Jews and Judaism (1990)
- How Firm a Foundation: A Gift of Jewish Wisdom For Christians and Jews, ISBN 1-55725-189-4 (Oct 1997)
- The Journey Home, ISBN 0-9708188-0-7 (May 2001)
- The One Year Holy Land Moments Devotional, 978-1414370217 (August 2013)
Recognized as the world’s leading Jewish authority on evangelical Christians, he has written columns and been featured in such publications as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, U.S. News and World Report, The Jerusalem Post, The Forward, and People magazine. He has been a guest on TV and radio programs nationwide, including CNBC’s “Hardball” and PBS’ “Now with Bill Moyers.”
Eckstein, an Israeli Hasidic singer, has recorded six CDs. He has been a member of Kol Salonika, The Y'DID Singers and The Rabbis' Sons. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he performed for Israeli troops on the Syrian front and in hospitals.
In May 2010, Israel's Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog presented Rabbi Eckstein with the government of Israel's first-ever Award for Special Contribution to the Welfare of the People of Israel. Herzog described the contributions of Eckstein and The Fellowship saying, “Rabbi Eckstein’s contribution to the wellbeing of needy Israelis goes above and beyond… Rabbi Eckstein completes the biblical decree ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” NEWSWEEK magazine named Eckstein to its list of the Top 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America (June 2010). In July 2010, Rabbi Eckstein was honored by Hadassah with its first Man of Distinction award. In 2014, he was awarded the prestigious Raoul Wallenberg Award by the JDC, and he was also listed in the Jerusalem Post’s Top 50 Most Influential Jews of 2014 and 2015.
Eckstein has also received the Economic Forum’s prestigious Jerusalem Prize, the Community Service Leadership Award from Yeshiva College, and more than 20 other awards from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Chamah, Colel Chabad, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Israel’s Union of Local Authorities, and other organizations.
In Israel, Eckstein has served as an unofficial advisor to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of the State of Israel, with special emphasis on Israel’s relationships with evangelical communities in Latin America. He also chaired the City of Jerusalem’s Public Commission for Strengthening Worldwide Ties to Jerusalem.
Eckstein received Orthodox Rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University in New York. He also holds master's degrees from Yeshiva and Columbia University, where he also completed studies for his doctorate.
After serving as national co-director of interreligious affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, Eckstein founded the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1983 to help Christians and Jews work together on projects promoting the safety and security of Jews in Israel and around the world. The organization was renamed the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1991.
When Eckstein started the Fellowship, he had no salary, no medical benefits and a pregnant wife. He worked part-time as a rabbi. In the early years, he received the majority of his donations from fellow Jews. Often these gifts were grudgingly given. "I don't know what you're doing, and I don't know if I like what you're doing," one Jewish philanthropist from Chicago said to him, but he nonetheless donated. But from the mid-1990s, he became increasingly popular with Evangelical Christians, leading to rapidly increasing growth of the charity each year. By 2003, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was listed as the second largest charity in Israel.
Criticism and response
A July 24, 2005, New York Times magazine article by Zev Chafets notes: “For decades, Orthodox critics have accused Eckstein of being a closet Christian; in addition, The Jewish Observer, the house magazine of the ultra-Orthodox organization Agudath Israel of America, called Eckstein’s work “a curse.” The Times article also states, “Many of the Jews who once derided Eckstein for depending on the kindness of strangers now want to be his best friends.”
As Eckstein grew increasingly powerful, he attracted criticism from parts of the Orthodox community from which he came and whose good opinion he covets.
“Even those who applaud Eckstein’s philanthropies are sometimes skeptical about what he calls his ‘ministry.’ For Jews, who are used to seeing themselves as victims of bigotry, the saga of Yechiel Eckstein raises uncomfortable questions about who loves – and who hates – whom.”
According to the Times article, Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League national director, remains one of Eckstein’s most prominent critics, accusing the rabbi of “selling the dignity of the Jewish people" by asking for donations, saying: "We're not a poor people". Eckstein has no apologies for his support from Christians, insisting he does more than fund-raising: "It’s a ministry". He also states: "There are all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories out there about how evangelicals only support Israel to bring on Armageddon or because they want to convert the Jews to Christianity. That's just not true. You saw the people there today... They're not religious fanatics, and they don't have ulterior motives. These are good, religious people who love Israel and want to help. What's the matter with that? .
- "Profiles in Giving", Heartbeat: The American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Spring 2010
- "Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein". International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. June 20, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
- Chafets, Zev (July 24, 2005). "The Rabbi Who Loved Evangelicals (and Vice Versa)". New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2010.
- "About the Rabbi". International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
- Kol Salonika (vol. 1) The Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive
- The Y'DID Singers The Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive
- The Rabbis Sing The Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive
- Rabbi Honored for Special Contribution to Israel YNet News 5/30/2010
- The Fifty Most Influential Rabbis in America Newsweek 6/28/2010
- Rabbi Eckstein: Our ‘Man of Distinction,’ Hadassah Convention Daily
- "About Us". International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
- Financial Summary