November 15, 2019

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Founder of International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Dies at 67

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, died Wednesday, February 6, at 67. It is reported that Eckstein died from sudden heart failure.

The mission of the organization, which was founded in 1983 as the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews, is “To promote understanding and cooperation between Jews and Christians and to build broad support for the State of Israel.”

IFCJ posted this on its website:

We are heartbroken to share that Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, The Fellowship’s Founder and President, passed away in his home in Jerusalem at the age of 67.

All of us at The Fellowship are deeply saddened and shocked. Even as we give thanks to God for Rabbi Eckstein’s life, we especially ask that you pray for Rabbi Eckstein’s family, and for all of us at The Fellowship who mourn this incalculable loss, during this most difficult time. Thank you, our dear friends and partners, for holding us up with your prayers.

In a 2015 Jewish Journal article about Eckstein, Jonathan Kirsch wrote:

“From the outset, Eckstein’s particular kind of missionary work has drawn criticism from both highly observant Jewish clergy and Jewish secular leaders such as Foxman. The chief Ashkenazic rabbi in Israel, for example, once ruled that any Jew who accepts donations originating with Christians will ‘lose both their worlds, this and the next.’ But Eckstein has always remained a true believer in himself:

“It didn’t even occur to me to quit,” he tells Zev Chafets in “The Bridge Builder: The Life and Continuing Legacy of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, An Authorized Biography.” “I have a personal relationship with God … and I had a moral certainty that came from God. That’s what has guided my work and my life, from the beginning until today.”

In a statement on his Facebook page, Eckstein’s friend Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote:

“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.”

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir today issued the following statement on Eckstein, who was a FIDF supporter:

“Today we lost a friend, a partner, and a great supporter. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein z”l was an ardent Zionist who devoted his life to the State of Israel, a highly respected visionary and leader who built bridges between Jewish and Christian communities and across great divides, making the world a better place for us all. He leaves behind a tremendous legacy for us to continue his crucial work, bringing together Jews and non-Jews in support of Israel and her guardians – the men and women of the IDF. The FIDF family extends its most heartfelt sympathies to his loved ones.”

Eckstein and his wife, Joelle, live in Jerusalem. They have three daughters and eight grandchildren. His funeral will be held in Jerusalem on Thursday.