I had the pleasure to interview Yael Eckstein, president, and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews (also known as “The Fellowship”), for my Israel Unfiltered interview Series.
During our conversation, we talked about how evangelical Christians connect to the Tanakh and therefore connect spiritually to Israel and the Jewish people. Their love for us comes from their love of the scriptures. So the motives are biblically and spiritually based and not politically biased.
Yael pointed out that she believes that Israel’s advocacy has made a mistake in focusing on the politics, and It would do good for them to focus more on the culture Israel has to offer, she said: “What I always say is I didn’t make aliyah because of politics. I think that would be a reason not to make Aliyah. (laughs) Why I left my comfortable life in America, and my family, and you know, the future I thought I would have there, to move to Israel that has its own challenges, isn’t because of the government, but is because, you know, when you’re driving and on the radio they say “Shana tova” or “Shabbat Shalom” and you know, you get in a cab, and he starts telling you about the grandmother he visited and the amazing story of her escaping Iraq, and their spiritual history. And you hear him praying and saying, “Baruch Hashem!” It’s those details that for me as a culture, its family, its inviting, it’s why I made aliyah.”
This is also why she started social media accounts on the side, to show their evangelical friends what life is like in Israel. Too often, people abroad only see the politics, the tanks, the fighting. She has more than half a million followers because people want to see that side. Around half of the 4.2 million people visiting Israel (pre covid) are Christian.
Yael’s Only In Israel Moment is
Every day those happen! You could write books on it! You don’t even have to leave your house; the Amazon delivery man who comes in and asks for a glass of water and puts his hand on his head cause he’s not wearing a yamaka, as he makes a blessing on the water before he drinks it. Every single day there are so many of those.
I’m in the stage of raising teenagers. I was a teenager in America, and it was a very different culture. One of the biggest things I think that really defines the difference between growing up in Israel or growing in America- my parents always told me- DON’T talk to strangers. It was THE most important rule: You are vulnerable, and you don’t want to make yourself a target cause bad things could happen, so you cannot get close to strangers.
I tell my kids the opposite; if you need ANYTHING, ask the person next to you. If your phone dies, ask the bus driver. If you’re camping and you run out of water, ask the family in the tent next to you. It’s a culture of helping each other.
Yael On The Concept Of Social Responsibility
I feel like in so many other countries, the concept of social responsibility is a MACRO concept like you have to give money to people in Africa or whatever. In Israel, it’s more MICRO. Like if you see a child on the bus and you see a strange person standing next to them- you don’t look away, you go to the child, you get off the bus with them, you call their parents and wait for them to come. When I go to the park and my child falls, before I can even get to them, there are 15 other parents helping them up and giving them water. It’s everywhere, just transforming the mundane into holy.
Yael On The Christians’ & Jews’ Connection
Working with Christians has forced me to ask myself about Jewish concepts; how are they relevant to me? What does this mean to me? So I would be able to give it over to other people.
Why do Christians need Jews? Well, Jews are the roots of the Christian faith. I was just talking to my audience about eating kosher, and they were asking me, “Why do you not eat this, what’s kosher, etc.” and I said, well, this is actually how Jesus lived. If you want to explore how Jesus lived- he would not have eaten milk and meat, he would’ve not eaten shellfish, etc. So really, the Jewish people are preserving very important parts of the Christian faith, and Christians are starting to recognize this.
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