Yechiel Eckstein, a charismatic rabbi who built a philanthropic empire by tapping into support and passion for Israel in the Christian evangelical world, died 67. The cause of death was presumed to be cardiac arrest.
Eckstein was the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organisation that raises funds almost exclusively from Christian evangelicals to support social causes in Israel and the Jewish world. The largest private charity operating in Israel, IFCJ (known in Hebrew as “Keren Yedidut”), raises about $140 million a year. An Orthodox rabbi, Eckstein created the organisation 40 years ago after stepping down from a senior executive position he held in the Anti-Defamation League. He moved to Israel in 2002.
Eckstein’s face and voice were well-known in Israel, where he invested heavily in promoting his organisation. Large posters featuring photos of him welcoming immigrants to Israel decorate the terminals of Ben-Gurion International Airport. His distinctive American-accented English was regularly heard on radio commercials, particularly during the Jewish holiday season, lauding efforts by his organisation to feed and clothe the poor in Israel.
Since his organization was founded 40 years ago, it has raised about $1.5 billion. In recent years, IFCJ has been devoting special efforts to South America, where the evangelical movement is growing.
IFCJ supports some 400 welfare projects in Israel. Its main areas of focus are combating poverty, facilitating aliyah and strengthening security.
Responding to Eckstein’s death, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said that Israel and the Diaspora had lost “a leader who worked for them many good years through the fabulous project he created with his own hands.”
Eckstein is survived by his wife Joelle and three daughters. His daughter Yael serves as vice president of IFCJ.