Yael Eckstein is the President and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship). She oversees all ministry programs and serves as the international spokesperson. Prior to her present duties, Yael served as Global Executive Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Director of Program Development and Ministry Outreach. Based in Jerusalem with her husband and their four children, Yael is a published writer and a respected social services professional.
She has contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and other publications. She has recently released her new book Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children. In this book, Eckstein teaches us how faith is passed down from one generation to the next through the holy observances and traditions that happen within the life of the family.
Q: Let's start with yourself: tell us about your parents, what were they like?
I grew up in a very loving home, in Chicago. My parents were always very involved in community, faith, and philanthropy, setting an example for me and my two sisters that we hold dear to this day. Zionism was always spoken about, prayed about, and celebrated, which certainly paved the way to me making Aliya (moving to Israel) when I finished college at the age of 22. My parents raised me on a philosophy of love, acceptance, and family, which are the values I try to pass on to my children as well. One of my fondest memories is of going to concerts with my father, where he would play guitar and sing Hebrew and Yiddish songs; I remember the holocaust survivors clapping with the numbers on their arms, smiling, and dancing. I always admired my father for bringing so much joy to others, in so many different ways.
Q: What kind of a legacy did your parents leave behind for you?
My parents left me a legacy of strong faith and unwavering love. They deeply instilled in me that family and God are the most important two things in life, and dare we let anything every get in the way of those two foundational values and focuses. My parents gave me a beautiful balance of intellect, modernity, and professionalism, mixed with 'simple faith' and belief in prayer. My parents always worked very hard in their nonprofit careers, yet never missed a birthday, celebration, or milestone. If I had to sum it up in one word, my parents left me the legacy of 'balance' in life.
Q: How did they motivate you to become the President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Israel's largest private philanthropy?
The truth is, my parents never encouraged me or thought that I would become part of The Fellowship. My father always kept work and home very separate, to the point that I didn't even know what my father worked in. When teachers would ask me what my father does for a living, I would answer that 'he helps people.' It wasn't until I moved to Israel at the age of 22, and felt the calling to become part of The Fellowship. God put in on my heart to feel passionately about this mission, and do anything to be connected to it.
I started off putting stamps on envelopes for a year, then I moved up to writing marketing material from Israel, and over the course of 15 years I help 5 different positions until the Board of Directors unanimously voted me President Elect, a year before my father passed away, as they started working on the transition plan in preparation for his anticipated retirement. I can truly say that it was God's hand directing my journey with The Fellowship. My prayer has always been simply to be a channel for God's love and light to come into the world, and I feel blessed that He is using me in such a huge way. Every day, I'm humbled anew.
Q: Tell us a little about the ministry of International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is the largest philanthropic organization in Israel, providing basic needs and lifesaving aid to what the bible calls 'the least of these' - holocaust survivors, orphans, widows, etc. My father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein OBM started this ministry over 36 years ago with the goal of being a bridge building organization which connects Christians and Jews in shared values, strategic partnership, communication, and respect. On top of providing humanitarian care for the most vulnerable of the people of Israel, we also bring thousands of Jews from Ukraine, the FSU, Arab countries, and countries 'at risk' to Israel on Aliya each year, and provide lifesaving security programs - such as bomb shelters, security jackets, ambulances - to Israel's border communities.
Q: You have just released a new book "Generation to Generation," what's the book about?
This book was a very special project which I worked on during the year of mourning following my father's death. It focuses on biblical values that my parents passed on to me from their parents, which I am passing on to my children. The Jewish people have survived so many years in exile amidst persecution and anti-Semitism, because we have held on to these biblical values and have been committed to pass them on to our children. We are a link in a chain, going all the way back to Mt. Sinai. How do we pass these Godly values on to our children? Through the unique lessons which come from celebrating the biblical holidays. This book teaches universal lessons which are relevant to both Christians and Jews, of how we can tangibly pass on faith and values to our children in this very difficult generation, which seems to have 'forsaken the values of their fathers.'
Q: Why is it important for us to pass on our faith to our children?I believe that faithful people are happy people - and what more does a parent want for their children than to be happy?
Faith gives us the tools to deal with any situation with grace, hope, and joy, instead of despair, sadness and anger. Faith is the recognition that God is in charge, God is good, and we can trust Him. Beyond that, I believe that we are only in this world for a very short period of time, and we are here for a purpose. For a child to feel like they have a role and purpose in this world, gives them a feeling of responsibility - and that is the only way that we will be able to make this world a better place; if each person takes on the huge responsibility to fix this broken world in whatever way they can. Faith gives us the knowledge and confidence that no matter 'how small' we might feel, God expects big things from us and He gives us the tools to accomplish them.
Q: How can your new book help parents and also teachers in passing on their faith to next generation?
I believe that the bible is not just an interesting, historic story book. I believe that it's holy words, with holy wisdom. Everything we need to know is in the bible. Judaism has protected the ancient traditions of how to implement the words of the bible in our homes and lives, so that we can pass faith on to the next generation - and those are the lessons and traditions I want to share with bible believers around the world. Through biblical wisdom of how to practice tradition and holidays, we can teach our children all of the practical and spiritual values; happiness, trust, resilience, belief in miracles, the power of prayer, the notion of redemption, and so much more.
Q: In the wake of coronavirus epidemic, how can we maintain a strong faith and pass on our faith in such a culture of fear?
As a parent who is in isolation with four children between the ages of 4-13, I can tell you it's not easy, but it's doable. The first thing as a parent, is to make sure our faith is strong. Very often I realize that I want to teach a concept in faith to my children, but that I haven't fully internalized it yet. I speak about this with my kids, and try to explore the journey together. In this generation, children know what is fake and what is real - and the best thing we can do is be real with our kids. I've tried to keep to a very flexible schedule, but to always include a few unnegotiable activities: morning prayer, family circle time to express our thoughts, cooking and cleaning as a family.
Our children are looking at us to know how to respond to this crisis; if we respond with faith, hope, and safety, they will use those tools throughout their whole life to deal with crisis. I try to always have faithful music playing, to dance a lot, and to constantly thank God - out loud- for the 'little things'. My kids have gotten used to me just yelling out, in the middle of the kitchen, 'GOD, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MY CHILDREN AND THIS TIME TOGETHER!!'. Thankfulness changes the mood - and there is always something to be thankful for. And my best tool to deal with overwhelming stress and fear, is to simply fall on the ground and laugh out loud while calling out to God for help. Somehow, that always works. =)
To purchase Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children, click here.
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