Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), and a pioneer in linking Christians to the cause of the State of Israel, passed away suddenly on Wednesday at the age of 67.
The cause of death was a heart attack, according to Israel news website ynet.
The Canadian-born Eckstein was educated in New York at Yeshiva University under Rabbi Dov Soloveitchick, the “Rav,” one of the leading lights of the Modern Orthodox movement in Judaism. He went on to earn a doctorate in philosophy and religion at Columbia.
Rabbi Eckstein was not just a theologian and academic. He also served as a community rabbi — including at the Skokie Valley Traditional Synagogue in suburban Chicago, in which this author and his siblings were raised.
had been a ubiquitous presence on cable news in the United States for the past two decades, appearing on advertisements to raise money for impoverished Jews in Israel and the former Soviet Union. According to Ha’aretz, the effort raised some $140 million per year.
But Eckstein’s greatest legacy may be his success in forging relationships between Christian leaders and the Israeli government. He fought for the inclusion of a Christian leader on the board of the Jewish Agency, the Israeli non-governmental organization that links the Jewish Diaspora with Israel.
He also sought to educate Jews about Christian support for Israel, and to allay fears in the Jewish community, based on years of persecution, that pro-Israel Christians merely wished to proselytize and convert Jews.
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) founder Pastor John Hagee told the Times of Israel: “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.”
American evangelical leader and legendary broadcaster Pat Robertson mourned Eckstein’s passing in a statement via CBN News:
Words cannot express the sorrow I feel at the untimely passing of my dear friend, Yechiel Eckstein. Yechiel has been a pioneer and champion of Christian/Jewish relations for decades. We have worked together on many projects, and the success of his organization attests to compassion that he feels for his fellow Jews who suffer in poverty in various parts of the world. I am sure I echo the words of our Lord, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.
The Times of Israel quoted Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, who called Eckstein a “great man, great Jew and great Zionist.”
CBN News also quoted Isaac Herzog, current chair of the Jewish Agency and past leader of the opposition in the Israeli Knesset (parliament): “The Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora (have) lost this evening a leader who worked for us for many years through his wonderful life’s work which he established with his own hands.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a Breitbart News contributor, also mourned Eckstein in a statement, noting Eckstein had given a speech at Boteach’s son’s bar mitzvah just two days before:
I am in utter and absolute shock at the passing of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, a world pioneer in Jewish-Christian relations. Yechiel spoke at my son’s Bar Mitzvah at the Psagot Winery in the Judean Hills just two nights ago. He was smiling; he looked incredibly happy as the public video of the speech shows. How could this possibly happen?
I wish immense comfort to his family and may G-D bring an end to their terrible suffering.
Yechiel brought Jewish-Christian relations to heights that none could have foreseen. When so many looked at Christians as people who had wanted to convert us, or people who harbored hostility toward us, he presciently saw a brighter future of unity and cooperation, within which Evangelical Christians would emerge as Israel’s greatest friends and protectors.
Yechiel supported countless people with innumerable good acts. Whether caring for Holocaust survivors throughout the world or working tirelessly to shore up Israel’s security, supporting Israel’s soldiers or countless other organizations, Rabbi Eckstein’s dedication and love for his people never ceased to amaze. He was and will remain absolutely irreplaceable.
May G-D comfort his family and the entire Jewish people, whom Yechiel loved so much.
CBN News reports that Eckstein will be buried Thursday in Jerusalem.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.