Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
The Bridge Builder
The Life and Continuing Legacy of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
By Zev Chafets
The evangelicals he [Yechiel] came across in the Midwest were everyday Americans whose religious beliefs made them eager to meet and befriend the Jews, God's chosen people. He saw the potential for a great Judeo-Christian alliance that would serve as a force for Israel and Jewish causes around the world, and help America stay on a moral course at home. It was a vision shared by virtually no one else in the Jewish community, but he pursued it with single-minded energy...
And yet, huddled under his prayer shawl, Yechiel Eckstein felt something else: a sense of defiance. He was a seeker and a self-examiner, a chronic critic of his own motives. But at this moment he trusted his vision. A bridge uniting Christians and Jews could be built, and he felt destined to be the engineer. He had no idea how hard the work would be, the price it would exact. He only knew, with a certainty he had never before felt, that he had no choice but to go ahead.
More than thirty years later, Eckstein recalls that certainty. "I felt humiliated and alone. It was the worst day of my life. But I never thought I was wrong. It didn't even occur to me to quit. I have a personal relationship with God and I felt at the time that it was a divine mission, what is known in Hebrew as shlichut. Sitting in the back of the shul that day, I thought about Abraham and Isaac. In the book of Genesis, God commands Abraham to take his son 'to the land I will show you.' He doesn't tell Abraham where it is. He simply expects Abraham to obey. I had a moral certainty that came from God. And I still feel it. That's what has guided my work and my life, from the beginning until today."