The Evangeliker Rav
When we wrote last week,
The Christian Broadcast Network is repeatedly airing a program starring former Sachnut (Jewish Agency for Israel) chief Sallai Meridor, Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, along with the head of the JDC in Israel, Rabbi Yaakov Bleich of Kiev and Yechiel Eckstein, and old, sick Jews from the FSU. The co-stars are Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Pat Boone and a host of evangelicals telling their flocks that the elderly Jews of the FSU are targets of rabid antisemites who are, essentially, coming to kill them in their beds.
…the big question for some of us was “Who the hell is this Yechiel Eckstein character?” The good ol’ Times delivers the goods:
In the past 25 years, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein has traveled to China to liberate persecuted pastors, hiked through Ethiopia and Siberia in search of vulnerable Jews, advised prime ministers in Jerusalem and met with evangelical Republicans at the White House. His immediate plans include transporting an entire biblical lost tribe from northeastern India to the Holy Land and starting a Spanish-language ministry for the Pentecostals of Latin America. He has even talked about recording some sacred hymns with Debby Boone. And, as Eckstein himself might say, God only knows what he’ll do after that.
All this hyperactivity is financed by the contributions of evangelical Christians. In the last eight years alone, an estimated 400,000 born-again donors have sent Eckstein about a quarter of a billion dollars for Jewish causes of his personal choosing. No Jew since Jesus has commanded this kind of gentile following.
This success has, of course, bred detractors. Some of Eckstein’s fellow Orthodox rabbis would like to exile him for consorting with Christians. Eckstein is a registered Democrat, but there are liberal Jews who view his friendship with Red State evangelical conservatives like Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and Gary Bauer as cultural and political treason. Even those who applaud Eckstein’s philanthropies are sometimes skeptical about what he calls his “ministry.” For Jews, who are used to seeing themselves as victims of bigotry, the saga of Yechiel Eckstein raises uncomfortable questions about who loves — and who hates — whom.