Carrying On Her Father’s Legacy – Her Way

Yael Eckstein is proud to be the daughter of the late Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who was the much-admired founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) – and she is equally proud of her accomplishments in the three years since she has taken The Fellowship’s helm

Rebecca Kopans, partnered with IFCJ
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Yael Eckstein
As the world watched the devastation in Ukraine with horror, The Fellowship wasted no time.Credit: PR
Rebecca Kopans, partnered with IFCJ
Promoted Content

Most of Yael Eckstein’s adult life has been devoted to helping her father with the remarkable philanthropic enterprise which he founded in 1983 – the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Over the years, she was involved in every aspect of its activities, which focus on raising donations from Christians who support Israel, and using the funds to help Israelis in need and to encourage aliyah. “I got the calling and I always believed in the mission,” she confirms with a smile, adding that she worked her way up the organization’s ranks before being appointed president and CEO in 2019 upon the death of her father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.

Devastated by this tragic loss, Yael was determined to honor her father’s memory by assuming the leadership of The Fellowship and investing all her energy in modernizing and expanding its operations. Today she is one of the only Orthodox women running a major religious charitable organization. While Rabbi Eckstein represented a leadership model that was common for his generation, emphasizing loyalty and a more intuitive decision-making process, Yael is clearly a 21st century manager. She believes in running the NGO more like a start-up company, relying heavily on analytics and a professional work plan.

Yael EcksteinCredit: PR

Taking The Fellowship to the next level

Yael Eckstein’s hard work has already paid off: The Fellowship doubled its donor base in just two years! In 2021, the organization raised more than $200 million, making it possible to help more than two million people. This surge is especially impressive since it occurred in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when most charitable organizations struggled to stay afloat.

“We are stronger than ever before. We now have half a million active donors – mostly Christians from the U.S. but also from Canada, Korea and other countries,” says Eckstein, pointing out that the number of donors grew even though support for Israel among Christians is waning among the younger generation. Moreover, there has been almost no Christian tourism to Israel during the pandemic and potential donors have not been able to experience Israel in person.

What is Yael Eckstein’s secret? “I had to make hard decisions. I am carrying out my father’s legacy by taking The Fellowship to the next level,” she explains. Her first decision was to reassess everything – “there are no sacred cows.” She brought in a fresh leadership team and devised a strategic plan with clear annual goals, including KPIs and deliverables. “From now on, everything must be proven with data,” she insists. Equally important: Yael is ensuring that The Fellowship’s mission statement is completely aligned with the donors’ expectations. “My father was the first and final voice as far as where the money went. I set up clear protocols to determine which programs we are supporting; we cut those that don’t fit,” she elaborates.

Fast response to the Ukraine crisis

As the world watched the devastation in Ukraine with horror, The Fellowship wasted no time.
“We responded immediately, working closely with our partners to help save lives,” Eckstein says. Indeed, thanks to partnerships with the Jewish Agency, Chabad, the JDC, and others, The Fellowship – which has a 30-year history of supporting Jewish populations in need in the former Soviet Union (FSU) – has been helping the Ukrainian Jewish community on several fronts during the crisis. It is a leading force in providing ongoing humanitarian aid to Jews fleeing the violence, as well as to those remaining at home. Despite the enormous logistic difficulties, The Fellowship is continuing to deliver food, medicine, and essential goods to the Ukrainian Jewish community. It is also helping Jews evacuate to neighboring countries and providing humanitarian aid to the new refugees, while facilitating aliyah for those able to come to Israel.

Flying to Moldova from Israel with 15 tons of humanitarian aid for the refugees, and return to Israel with olim on boardCredit: IFCJ

“We have over 1,000 beds in Moldova for refugees who want to make aliyah, as well as many volunteers and workers on the ground. Even though the airport there is closed, we received permission to charter flights to bring olim from Moldova to Israel, and we have already chartered flights six days a week for the next seven weeks,” notes Yael Eckstein. Some of these flights will fly to Moldova from Israel with 15 tons of humanitarian aid for the refugees, and return to Israel with olim on board.

“I am proud that the Fellowship is able to play a central role in meeting the current challenges. This operation symbolizes the values of Zionism and Jewish solidarity. We will help ensure that these new olim settle in Israel in an optimal manner. All this was made possible thanks to the partnerships forged among diverse organizations, and the generosity of The Fellowship’s donors, who never fail to support Israel and the Jewish people,” Eckstein affirms emotionally.

Largest provider of humanitarian aid in Israel

The Fellowship’s new mission statement is in fact very clear. The organization is committed to three goals: fighting poverty in Israel and the FSU, providing security to Israelis in conflict zones (including soldiers), and facilitating aliyah, especially from the FSU and Ethiopia. In 2021, The Fellowship was able to help a record number of people in need through hundreds of different projects, becoming the largest provider of humanitarian aid in Israel and one of the largest donors to humanitarian needs for Jews in the FSU. “We are leaders in providing basic needs for huge amounts of people – the poor, the elderly, and those who suffer most,” Yael Eckstein notes with pride.

The millions of people The Fellowship supports include impoverished families throughout Israel who receive food and clothing; Holocaust survivors and other elderly people in need who are provided with necessities such as food and heaters; needy and lone IDF soldiers who are given food cards and help with other basic needs; and, last May, over half a million people affected by the Gaza conflict who benefited from prepared meals and activities for their children courtesy of The Fellowship.

In addition, the organization has continued to facilitate Aliyah throughout the pandemic, organizing special Aliyah flights from over 30 countries. Thanks to The Fellowship, more than 5,000 Jews from around the world made Aliyah last year, including a large group from Ukraine. The new immigrants enjoyed financial, logistic, and moral support from staff both before and after they moved to Israel.

The Fellowship: fighting poverty in Israel and the FSUCredit: IFCJ

New path, same values

Since taking over the leadership of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Yael Eckstein has initiated several important changes in the organization’s operations. The Fellowship began partnering with Israel’s Ministry of Social Affairs. Since The Fellowship has the expertise and the logistical ability to aid large numbers of people throughout Israel, the government works with the organization to meet the extensive demand.

Another development that Yael has fostered involves forging new partnerships with Jewish philanthropists and Jewish organizations. For example, until recently The Fellowship’s Aliyah program was independent from similar efforts organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel, but the two organizations have now become strategic partners, working together to promote Aliyah in Ukraine, South America, Ethiopia and elsewhere.

Despite the changes that Yael Eckstein has introduced, she is strongly committed to the same core values that her father established decades ago: the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews will always care about Jews in need, will always work to strengthen the connection between Christians and Jews, and will continue to remain apolitical. “Israel doesn’t have that many friends and it’s important to encourage those who stand with Israel,” she concludes. Clearly, the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

For more information about the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, click here.

Partnered with IFCJ