Yael Eckstein, IFCJ President and CEO, oversees all ministry programs and serves as the international spokesperson for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Prior to her present duties, Yael served as Global Executive Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Director of Program Development and Ministry Outreach. Based in Israel with her husband and their four children, Yael is a published writer and a respected social services professional.
Yael Eckstein has contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and other publications, and is the author of three books: Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children, Holy Land Reflections: A Collection of Inspirational Insights from Israel, and Spiritual Cooking with Yael. In addition, her insights into life in Israel, the Jewish faith, and Jewish-Christian relations can be heard on The Fellowship’s radio program, Holy Land Moments, which air five times per week on over 1,500 radio stations around the world.
Yael Eckstein has partnered with other global organizations, appeared on national television, and visited with U.S. and world leaders on issues of shared concern. She has been a featured guest on CBN’s The 700 Club with Gordon Robertson, and she served on a Religious Liberty Panel on Capitol Hill in May 2015 in Washington, D.C., discussing religious persecution in the Middle East. Her influence as one of the young leaders in Israel has been recognized with her inclusion in The Jerusalem Post’s 50 Most Influential Jews of 2020 and The Algemeiner’s Jewish 100 of 2019, and she was featured as the cover story of Nashim (Women) magazine in May 2015.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, outside of Chicago, and well-educated at both American and Israeli institutions – including biblical studies at Torat Chesed Seminary in Israel, Jewish and sociology studies at Queens College in New York, and additional study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – Yael Eckstein has also been a Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher in the United States.
Tell us about the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ)?
The Fellowship was founded around 38 years ago by my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and it was started as an organization whose vision was to really bridge the Jewish and Christian communities in shared vision, brotherhood, communication, and love, for the first time in 2,000 years. What it turned into was an organization that’s really partnering with God to bring biblical prophecy to fruition and fulfill the biblical mandate to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the poor. Wherever you throw a stone in Israel, you’ll see The Fellowship, which represents Christians and Jews all around the world who stand with Israel.
Your father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, passed away suddenly in February 2019. Tell us about how your personal loss impacted your new responsibilities as a leader for IFCJ?
Well, one of the first questions people asked me after my father passed away was, “Yael, you have very big shoes to fill. Do you think you’re going to be able to do it?” And I said, “Well, his feet were a lot bigger than mine, so I’m not going to try to fill his shoes, I’m going to just try to wear my own.” And so it’s definitely been a journey of really carrying on my father’s mission. I worked side by side with my father for over 15 years and so from the side of the organization and carrying on the mission and the vision, I feel more than prepared, but on the other side of losing a father, that’s something you’re never prepared for.
Why do you think IFCJ speaks to Christians and Jews in such a profound way?
Well, it’s something spiritual. The Fellowship isn’t just an organization, a philanthropic organization that’s saving lives. We’re doing that too, but it’s rooted in spirituality. We have so many of the same values, we have the same vision, we have the same love for Israel, the love for the Bible. What Christians say is that they’re grafted onto the rich olive tree of Israel. For any Christian who studies the Bible and studies both the New and Old Testament, Israel is fundamental to their faith. And so The Fellowship is really a conduit that Christians can use to express that love, to be part of this biblical prophecy coming to fruition and it’s a bridge of understanding that we’re different.
God created us different but he also commanded us to love our neighbor like ourselves. What’s the key characteristic of a neighbor? That they’re different than you. What The Fellowship is doing is saying Christians and Jews have 99% of things in common. You even see Judeo-Christian values that were put in that same pot of values for thousands of years, but it took thousands of years until we actually were able to step up and say, in Psalms when King David said: “How good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in peace.” This is what God was waiting for. And now we’re saying, we’re going to focus on what brings us together, what makes us similar, more than our differences and what tears us apart.
IFCJ has helped tens of thousands of Jews return to their historic and spiritual home in the Land of Israel. Can you tell us a little more about this monumental effort?
The Fellowship has helped over 180,000 Jews make aliyah from non-Western countries. This is from the biblical land of the north of the former Soviet Union and Russia. We’ve helped return two lost tribes to Israel, the tribe of Dan and Manasseh from Ethiopia and India. I believe that awesome things are happening. I believe that the reason why God has blessed this ministry is because we are standing together. When we stand together, God brings biblical prophecy to fruition, so it’s truly awesome to see.
Why is the return of the Jewish people to Israel important?
Well, I think it’s important for a few reasons. I think that the prophets saw what we call the end of days when Jews will be threatened and killed and targeted all across the world. My grandfather is a Holocaust survivor. We still have Holocaust survivors alive today. I think the prophets saw that Jews are going to be targeted. Jews are going to be killed and threatened. That unless they have a homeland, unless they come back to the land of Israel, the Jews won’t exist. And so this is part of God’s greater plan that’s both physical that we’re coming home to escape anti-Semitism and persecution, but it’s also spiritual that this is part of God’s plan.
God made a promise that the Jewish people would come home – the ingathering of the nations from all four corners of the Earth. And it’s something that people often said was impossible: that after 2,000 years of the Jewish people being exiled from their Land and of the native tongue of Hebrew not being spoken, people said, “That can’t happen.” but whatever God says and wills can happen. In an instant, the nation of Israel was rebuilt. And in an instant, the holy tongue of Hebrew was reintroduced to the world through Israel