Jewish Honor For Ecumenical Leader


Many weeks during the year, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein finds himself in rural, impoverished areas of the former Soviet Union, delivering food packages and good cheer to aging members of the Jewish community.

Last week Rabbi Eckstein found himself in Israel, being honored for his work.

The rabbi, a native of the U.S. and a dual citizen of Israel since 2002, received the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Raoul Wallenberg Award for his efforts as founder and chairman of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

The three-decade-old, independent interfaith organization has raised more than $1 billion — from Christians around the world, and from several Jewish organizations — to support needy Jews in the former Soviet Union, Israel and Ethiopia. The Fellowship’s funds go for food, medicine, schooling and other necessities.

“Rabbi Eckstein and IFCJ have done so much to help so many of the world’s most vulnerable Jews,” said Alan Gill, the Joint’s CEO.

The rabbi, top, comforts an elderly Jewish woman in Ukraine during a recent trip. He speaks, inset, at the Knesset podium during last week’s ceremony where he was honored, in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and where the 100th anniversary of the JDC was marked.

The award is named for the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest by establishing “safe houses.” He was arrested by Soviet troops after World War II and disappeared into the Soviet penal system.

The Chicago-based IFCJ, which was founded as the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews before its name was changed in 1991, is now focusing on the security concerns of Jews in Ukraine.

Newsweek named Rabbi Eckstein, who was ordained by Yeshiva University, to its list of the “Top 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America” in 2010.