Yael Eckstein, IFCJ President and CEO, oversees all ministry programs and serves as the international spokesperson for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. 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 Israel with her husband and their four children, Yael is a published writer and a respected social services professional.
Yael Eckstein has contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and other publications, and is the author of three books: Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children, Holy Land Reflections: A Collection of Inspirational Insights from Israel, and Spiritual Cooking with Yael. In addition, her insights into life in Israel, the Jewish faith, and Jewish-Christian relations can be heard on The Fellowship’s radio program, Holy Land Moments, which air five times per week on over 1,500 radio stations around the world.
Yael Eckstein has partnered with other global organizations, appeared on national television, and visited with U.S. and world leaders on issues of shared concern. She has been a featured guest on CBN’s The 700 Club with Gordon Robertson, and she served on a Religious Liberty Panel on Capitol Hill in May 2015 in Washington, D.C., discussing religious persecution in the Middle East. Her influence as one of the young leaders in Israel has been recognized with her inclusion in The Jerusalem Post’s 50 Most Influential Jews of 2020 and The Algemeiner’s Jewish 100 of 2019, and she was featured as the cover story of Nashim (Women) magazine in May 2015.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, outside of Chicago, and well-educated at both American and Israeli institutions – including biblical studies at Torat Chesed Seminary in Israel, Jewish and sociology studies at Queens College in New York, and additional study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – Yael Eckstein has also been a Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher in the United States.
The global pandemic has brought new challenges to the world and unique challenges for philanthropy. How are you navigating this new normal?
Normally I think when there are changes in any operation, whether it’s business or nonprofit, you look for the control, and then you’re able to compare where you are to that control. We had no control this year, in the sense of it was the transition year between my father and myself. It was a year of COVID. So when I say transition between my father and myself, it’s internal management and putting together the office and the protocols and the goals and the KPIs and the mission and the focus. And then there’s the external. That you could use a control of an infomercial we did previously versus the COVID year or direct mail we did previously versus the COVID year. But everything changed because it’s the first time that it’s me and not my father.
When my father passed away, we ended at around $124 million revenue, and this year, The Fellowship is ending at over $150 million globally.
I think I have a really amazing angel in heaven rooting for me and this organization. Our focus at The Fellowship and something very important for me to continue and focus on even more is basic needs. We’re not in education. We’re not in events. We’re not in politics. We’re in basic needs, like how to effectively distribute food to 30,000 Holocaust survivors in the matter of a week. So many organizations have moved their focus from those basic needs to more progressive issues. And so I think that now The Fellowship has all the tools to effectively distribute this aid that’s so needed in Israel. We’ve become the organization, both for Jews and Christians, to effectively distribute these basic need items to the elderly and the orphans specifically in Israel, and in the former Soviet Union.
We rely on $60 donations. And so the financial situation around the world has a big effect. Whether someone makes a $2 million pledge or when they’re trying to give tithes from their social security, it doesn’t make a difference. The Government of Israel allocated 70 million shekels for The Fellowship to distribute during COVID for basic needs. So there’s a lot of amazing, interesting progress to carry on my father’s legacy.
What advice would you offer to someone thinking about working with family?
I think whether you’re working in a family business or nonprofit, working with a parent could be so many things, either the best thing in the world or the worst thing. It could strengthen your relationship, your respect for one another, your appreciation for one another, or it could break these things apart.
I feel so lucky that with my father, when he passed away, I remember thinking that when a parent dies, it’s kind of closure. That’s all you’re getting from the parent. And most children feel like they didn’t get something from the parent. I feel so hugely blessed beyond belief that I feel like my father saw me in the professional world, and saw me as a mother, and saw me as a child.
At work, I think the best advice that I could give is, at work you are not family. You are in the hierarchy of the company. When I was in the office, my father would say something, and I never, not once, said, “But, abba.” No, no, no. If I have clear data and facts that I wanted to present, I presented them in a clear way just like every other employee. And at the end of the day, I looked at my father as the president, the CEO, the boss, the final word, and I accepted that and carried it out just like any other staff member.
I think the benefit to that is that you’re able to learn. Sometimes it can feel to the younger generation that the older generation doesn’t really get it. There’s so much happening in technology and so many different areas where the world has changed and it’s changed so quickly that it’s easy to come in and feel like they don’t get it. But the truth is they have so much to offer. And if you act professionally and strategically and you present data and facts and very clear arguments, it’s the most amazing bridge of the younger generation using the tools that they have from the new technology and new world while still benefiting from the knowledge and experience of the older generation.