An evangelical-backed Jewish philanthropy organization has scrapped plans to build a multimillion dollar outreach center for Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem in order to devote more attention to its humanitarian efforts.
The board of directors for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews voted in recent days to forgo plans to build The Fellowship House, a project that was the brainchild of the organization’s late founder, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
Eckstein died last February at the age of 67 and was seen as a pioneer in the movement to bridge the Jewish and evangelical Christian communities.
The Fellowship, which helps Jews suffering from persecution or poverty migrate to Israel, brings in about $140 million per year in donations, much of which comes from American evangelicals.
The Fellowship House was planned to be a seven-story building that would have served as the Fellowship’s headquarters. The structure was being built adjacent to the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
The idea was for the center to become a destination spot for the hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims who travel to Jerusalem every year. The intent was to be a place where visitors can learn how to be “ambassadors for Israel” when they return home and oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
According to a statement shared with The Christian Post, the board’s decision was made after extensive internal deliberation.
“This decision was precipitated by a robust strategic planning process through which it was determined that the Fellowship’s goals could be best achieved by investing more of the ministry’s resources in human lives than in brick and mortar,” the statement explained.
The Fellowship’s board believes that the decision will allow the organization to remain “focused and intentional” during a time of organizational growth.
Despite the passing of the organization’s founder, the number of active donors giving to The Fellowship increased to its highest level ever in 2019.
Since its founding in the 1980s, the Fellowship has helped over a quarter-million Jews fleeing persecution or poverty migrate to Israel.
“Our focus remains on the needs of our beneficiaries,” the board’s statement stresses. “Thanks to our dedicated supporters, The Fellowship is as strong as it has ever been, and we are quickly getting stronger.”
The board assures that the Fellowship is committed to its “core mission” to care for Jews around the world while “strengthening the bonds of friendship between Christians and Jews.
“Many Christians around the world look to the Fellowship as their personal opportunity to be a part of biblical history, blessing Israel and the Jewish people,” the board’s statement contends.
Considering that the Fellowship House was to be partly named after Yechiel Eckstein, the Fellowship’s board is in the process of evaluating alternative ways to honor the memory of its founder.
A groundbreaking ceremony for The Fellowship House was held in late 2017 and a shell of the structure stands in the Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem, according to Haaretz. The project was expected to be completed by 2020.
Yael Eckstein told the Israeli newspaper that $14 million had already been spent on the project. But she hopes that some of the money can be recuperated by selling the building and the property it sits on.
“This was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make because this project had been my father’s baby,” Eckstein explained. “We feel, however, that by focusing our efforts on the humanitarian mission of IFCJ, we will be making his legacy even stronger, and we will find another way to commemorate him.”
The halting of the project comes months after the U.S.-based CEO of the Fellowship, George Mamo, resigned over a lawsuit brought by two former employees accusing him of sexual harassment.
Eckstein’s memory was honored last week at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Western Regional Gala in Beverly Hills, California, an event that raised about $30 million to support the families of Isreali soldiers.
Yael Eckstein opened the event by providing remarks and a blessing.
"I am an Orthodox Jewish woman, yet I represent millions of Christians. Christians who stand with Israel united in a coalition built by my father, a rabbi," Eckstein said in her remarks.
"I’ve taken hold of the roots my father planted and, thank God, today, the Fellowship is stronger than ever. We are building more bridges for Christians who support Israel and reaching out to inspire and mobilize the ’next generation’ of Christians to continue the legacy of their parents, by passionately standing with Israel."