Among the more persistent intruders into my e-mail inbox there is a frequent missive from IFCJ, which I have taken to call IFcich but which its senders insist stands for an International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The missive is always signed by, or makes reference to, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. The prose, to this student of the sociology of religion, is reminiscent of Evangelical Christianity. The message invariably asks for money, and seems to insist, for reasons I cannot fathom, that I have a Christian duty to help Israel. For those who are not fortunate enough to be on the rabbi’s e-mail list, the IFCJ also maintains a blog.
Who is Rabbi Eckstein ? A left-wing Israeli member of Knesset, Ran Cohen, quoted by the Jewish Week, seems to think that Eckstein is a convert to Judaism, but that is almost certainly incorrect. A New York Times writer thinks that Eckstein is the son of a “Chief Rabbi of Canada,” but since I never heard of such a position in my 31 years of residence in that country as a practicing Jew, this latter press report, like the former, seems, well, spurious.
What does seem well established is that Rabbi Eckstein has quite a bona fide ordination from Yeshiva University but that he has angered many other orthodox rabbis by his inordinate communing with Evangelical Christians. On the other hand, Rabbi Eckstein has molded his IF organization into a major fund-raising group for Israeli charity. The funds seem to be mostly raised from Christians and the benefits seem to go mostly to Israel and needy people in Israel. And the big news now — top item in the December 28, 2007 issue of the Jewish Week — is that in return for a donation $45 million over the next three years from IF, the Jewish Agency has agreed to give Rabbi Eckstein a seat on its Executive Board. The Jewish News suggests that this deal means that Evangelical Christians and their agenda now have a say in the top councils of Zionism.
The Israeli writer Zev Chafets, writing in the New York Times Magazine of July 24, 2005, gave an informative and amusing account of the IF rabbi, although, to this reader, the article could have been stronger with a little less sneering.
There is also a quite informative piece by Marvin Schick about Eckstein. Schick is a free-lance columnist who contributes (apparently unpaid) advertisements of his pieces to the Jewish Week, and now also runs a blog.
Addendum, Feb. 18, 2008: David Brog has written a very informative book-length description of the Christian Evangelical support for Israel, together with an insightful analysis of the various Jewish responses to this effort.