On a cold friday evening on Manhattan's Upper East Side, a crowd of 200 gathers to hear Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein speak on the topic, "The Christian Right: Jews' Best Friends or Greatest Adversaries?" Haskel Lookstein, rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun for half a century, introduces Eckstein by quickly establishing the guest speaker's credentials, including that Eckstein's father (the Jerusalem-born retired chief rabbi of Canada) and Lookstein winter at the same Florida stomping ground.
At Kehilath Jeshurun, Eckstein defends American evangelicals with the fervor of a Southern preacher. In a nonthreatening manner, he takes to task the crowd of primarily white-collar professionals for prejudices they may harbor against evangelicals. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), Eckstein's 26-year-old organization, is proficient at raising funds from Christians via direct mail and the Internet. Last year, the organization raised about $88 million, making it one of the largest, most successful religious charities in America.
Eckstein recounts for the crowd a litany of sacrificial gifts evangelicals have made to ensure poor Jews get the help they need: there is the woman who gives from her meager Social Security check; another who switched from lattes to "coffees of the day" on her daily coffee runs and donates the difference; and the family that forgoes Christmas gifts to feed Israeli kids. Over the years, Christians have donated half a billion dollars to an organization founded by the Orthodox rabbi.
The Christian-Jewish connection Eckstein is describing transcends charity, however. Earlier this decade, evangelicals led the way in reviving Israel's dormant tourism ...1
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