Mrs. Yael Eckstein is the 35-year-old mother of four who is the President of one of Israel’s largest philanthropic organizations, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. After serving in various senior capacities for a decade, Mrs. Eckstein took over the organization, founded by her father, the famous Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein upon his sudden passing just over a year ago. Yael now has the distinction of being one of the very few women in the world leading a religious non-for-profit and fewer still lead an organization with an annual budget exceeding one hundred million dollars.
Interestingly, this Jewish-led organization is supported almost entirely by evangelical Christians who support Jewish causes, in particular by caring for elderly Jews in Israel and in the former Soviet Union, by protecting Jewish communities from anti-Semitism and terrorism, and by facilitating the immigration of threatened Jewish communities around the world to Israel. In the wake of COVID-19, The Fellowship established a $5 million emergency fund to immediately provide assistance to nearly 30,000 homebound Jews, including Holocaust survivors.
Ultimately, Yael says hers is a “bridge building organization” which has strengthened the friendship between Christians and Jews. Since Passover starts on April 8 this year, we asked her to address a simple question, “At a time when many Christians are having their own Passover Seders, can you help Christians better understand Passover from a Jewish perspective?”
Q. We understand that during Passover, Jews remember the story of the Exodus. What is the significance of this tradition?
A: At the Seder meal that Jews enjoy on Passover, we read to our friends and family from the Haggadah, which is the text that explains the order of the Passover. A unique part of our instructions is that “every person should see themselves as having left Egypt.” Jewish families see the redemption of the Jewish people from bondage under Pharaoh as an allegory for our own lives and our redemption from what we are “slaves to.” Jews believe, as Christians do, that G-d is involved in our daily lives and helps to redeem us from our personal struggles whether they be addictions that enslave us, times of hardship, or jealousy. This is a unique time to work to redeem ourselves from those bad qualities, and experience our own personal Exodus.
Q. There’s a particular element of the Passover tradition that is for children, specifically. Can you unpack this for us?
During the Passover Seder, it is customary to perform the rituals of the Seder for the sake of the children, and to fulfill the biblical commandment, “And you shall tell your children on that day” (Exodus, 18:3). The Hagaddah provides a valuable lesson when explaining the story to the next generation. We learn during the Seder of the “four sons,” each of these sons representing a different perspective on their participation within the story. 1) The wise son, one who knows the Bible, 2) the wicked son, one who rejects the Bible, 3) the child that is open to learning more, kind of like a blank slate, 4) and the child that doesn’t know what to ask as he/she is new to this experience.
While participating in a Seder, there is often an embodiment of one or all of these people at the table. Each of us can come away with a piece of the story to take with us forever regardless of who we are.
Q. The removal of leaven from the home is fascinating to many Christians. What does this process look like and what does it symbolize for the Jewish people?
A: Jewish families around the world conduct a “search” for leavened items around the household on the night before Passover, this is called“Bedikat Hametz.” Traditionally, the search is conducted by candle-light and gives everyone in the family the opportunity to perform the commandment of removing Hametz (wheat products) from the home as a witness to this commandment being fulfilled after 3000 years
Hametz can symbolize for Jewish people the removal of temptation from our hearts (Hamagid, 18th century). It’s no coincidence that carbohydrates reflect this gluttony that we seek to distance ourselves from for 7 days! This physical action of removing Hametz is reflected in the Jewish people as a spiritual “cleaning of our house” spiritually.
Q: Even the way you pray looks different for the Jewish people during Passover. Can you explain?
A: On this holiday, Jewish people change a part of their prayers in the Amidah or silent prayer, to reflect the season (in Israel, summertime). We no longer pray for G-d to “increase the winds and bring down the rain.” Instead, we pray for G-d to “bring down the dew.” This change of requests reflects Jewish identity with the land of Israel. Even though it’s typically raining in places that Jews moved to in exile, Israel’s climate seems to follow the exact timing of this prayer, and rain is seldom seen for the six months between Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. There are two lessons we can take from this:
- Try to keep your prayers within the realm of the possibile. While G-d will move mountains for you, G-d often works in everyday ways and through the laws of nature.
- To understand Jewish prayer, holidays, and the Bible itself, one must understand Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people.
Q. You say the Exodus of Israel is a revolution. How is it different from other revolutions across world history?
A. Passover is often referred to as Chag Haherut, or the Festival of Freedom. In Hebrew, there are two words to describe freedom, Hofshi, which reflects a freedom to choose, and Herut, a true freedom that leads to a better society. To illustrate the differences, the word Herut is used during the carving of the tablets of Moses (Exodus, 32:6).
In relation to the tablets, true freedom comes with laws that govern a society and the word of G-d. In the Bible, and during Passover, we can witness the birth of modern-day society and its foundations in finding true “freedom of society.”
A society with absolute freedom is not a functional one, it is anarchic, it is a place where people can do whatever they want and that does not lead to “true freedom.” Imagine a world in which every action is justifiable under the clause of freedom, the society would collapse without guidelines and restrictions!
The Exodus from Egypt was a revolution, but unlike many revolutions. When the Egyptian dictatorship was at its weakest (after the plagues), the Jewish people did not seek revenge or bloodshed, rather, they sought redemption through worshiping G-d.
We can think back to the bloody revolutions of modern times that have often left the people and land in tatters. Here, in Exodus, we see a people that are unified and marching towards the purpose of serving G-d in the land of their forefathers. They are free but it is a freedom in subservience to G-d’s will.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) was founded in 1983 to promote better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews and build broad support for Israel. Today it is one of the leading forces helping Israel and Jews in need worldwide — and is the largest channel of Christian support for Israel. Founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, The Fellowship now raises more than $120 million per year, mostly from Christians, to assist Israel and the Jewish people. Since its founding, The Fellowship has raised more than $1.8 billion for this work. The organization has offices in Jerusalem, Chicago, Toronto and Seoul. For more information, visit www.ifcj.org.
Website | www.IFCJ.org Facebook | The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. As President, Eckstein oversees all ministry programs and serves as the organization’s international spokesperson. She can be heard on The Fellowship’s daily radio program airing on 1,500 stations worldwide. Before her present duties, Yael served as global executive vice president, senior vice president, and director of program development and ministry outreach. Based in Jerusalem, Yael is a published writer, leading international advocate for persecuted religious minorities, and a respected social services professional. As President of The Fellowship, she also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of America’s largest religious not-for-profit organizations.