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 airs five times per week on over 1,300 radio stations around the world.
Yael Eckstein has partnered with other global organizations, appeared on national television, and visited with the 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 2021, and The Algemeiner’s Jewish 100 of 2019. She was also 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.
On her podcast, Nourish Your Biblical Roots, Yael Eckstein discusses how courage is one of the most important values we can pass down to our children. This vital trait is celebrated during the biblical observance of Purim, which commemorates the story of Queen Esther. Below Yael Eckstein from IFCJ reviews how we can use these lessons to raise the next generation to be strong and courageous.
What values do you hope to pass down to your children?
Of all of the values I hope to pass down to my children, courage is one of the most important. If our children are to grow up and live the values and teachings that we have passed on to them, they will need a solid foundation of faith and courage in order to choose what is right over what is popular and to favor what pleases God over what impresses other people. As renowned British statesman, Winston Churchill said, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” In a world that seems to have lost its moral compass, it is imperative that we teach our children how to navigate and follow a faith-based journey through life with courage and determination.
What does the Bible say about courage?
When Joshua took over the leadership of the Israelites from Moses, God repeated the same phrase to him three times. In the first nine verses of the book of Joshua, God said, ” Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” Be strong and courageous. As Joshua began the daunting task of conquering and settling the land of Israel, tasks believed impossible by 10 of his colleagues when they spied on the land 40 years earlier, he needed courage. However, it was his unwavering faith in God that gave him the ability to act courageously and to know confidently that he would succeed in his mission.
When David tasked his son Solomon with building God’s great holy temple in Jerusalem, he said, “Be strong and courageous and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, My God is with you.” This is in 1 Chronicles 28:20. It was Daniel’s unwavering faith in God that gave him and his friends the courage to stand against the Babylonian culture. Together, faith and courage have always advanced God’s work on earth.
What did your father teach you about courage?
My Abba, my father, told me the following story that demonstrates the amazing courage that comes from deep faith. At the beginning of the 20th century, the renowned Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who lived from 1880 to 1950, was fighting for religious freedom in communist Russia. One morning, as he prayed in synagogue, three men rushed in and arrested the Rabbi for his actions. Facing a council of determined men, the Rabbi reaffirmed that he would not give up his religious activities. One of the agents pointed a gun at his head and said, “This little toy has made many men change his mind.” The Rabbi replied, “That little toy can only intimidate men with many gods in one world, but I’ve only one God in two worlds, so I am not impressed by your little toy.”
As King David so beautifully wrote, “I will fear no evil for you are with me.” That’s from Psalm 23:4. Courage is born out of faith. Faith in God and faith in oneself. For you were created by God in the image of God. One of my father’s favorite things to do when my sisters and I were young was to read books to us, and not just any books, but books with messages that would inspire us to believe in ourselves.
How were these lessons presented to you as a child?
Two bedtime classics in our home were The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper and The Value of Believing in Yourself, the Story of Louis Pasteur by Spencer Johnson. For many of us, The Little Engine That Could is a childhood staple. The delightful words of Watty Piper introduced me to that intrepid and spunky little blue engine who in spite of being small and quite ordinary, was able to pull a large cargo over a steep mountain all because she kept repeating, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
The Value of Believing in Yourself is about the well-known 19th-century French chemist who discovered the vaccine for the deadly rabies virus told of Pasteur’s persistent and constant refrain, “I believe I can. I believe I can.”
The heroes of my bedtime stories were successful in accomplishing things great and small because of one thing they had in common. Both believed in themselves and consequently had the courage to pursue goals others thought impossible to achieve. Having this idea reinforced nearly every night provided a message that I could achieve whatever that is I put my mind to. However, this message was carefully balanced by the idea that I could do nothing without God.
Taken together, my father taught my sisters and me the invaluable lesson that with God in our lives, we could do anything. It is a lesson that has served both my sisters and me very well over the years. My parents were well aware that they were raising three girls who had become women in a world that tends to give men the advantage. It was important to them to instill within us the idea that we were just as capable as our male counterparts, and that as women, we have our own unique gifts to contribute to society. They emphasized the morning blessing recited by women daily and Jewish prayer, which thank God for making me according to His will. They taught us that God created us with every tool and talent we would ever need to accomplish His work.
My parents filled us with courage and confidence on a daily basis that we could meet any challenge and reach every goal. They helped me believe that anything I would be called to do would be something that I would undoubtedly be able to accomplish. If God brought me to it, God would get me through it. With such knowledge, how can we not have courage?
Tell us about Queen Esther.
According to the Book of Esther, the Jewish people were destined for annihilation due to the evil machinations of wicked Haman. With the help of God working behind the scenes, Queen Esther courageously risked her life to save her people. Most are probably familiar with this story that takes place after the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem while the Jewish people lived in Persian exile under the rule of King Xerxes. As the story goes, after the king had banished his first wife, he looked for a new wife and chose Esther, a young Jewish orphan. Under the direction of her uncle Mordecai, Esther did not reveal her Jewish identity.
While Esther was queen, an evil man named Haman plotted to kill all the Jewish people and through a series of well-placed lies and deceptions, was granted permission by the king to do so. Haman drew lots to determine the day that the genocide would take place. The 14th day of the month of Adar. Mordecai informed Esther of the looming threat and instructed her to go before the king and beg for mercy for her people. Esther, however, was hesitant. She knew that anyone who appeared before the king without being summoned would be put to death unless the king favored them, but Mordecai encouraged Esther to do her duty. With these stirring words, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
This is from Esther 4:14. Esther accepted the mission, requesting that the nation of Israel fast on her behalf and ultimately succeeded in saving her people.
What happens on Purim today?
Today, Purim, which means lots in ancient Babylonian and recalls the lots that Haman drew to determine the day of destruction for the Jews, is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month, Adar. The day before Purim is known as the fast of Esther. Jews fast and remembrance of the original fast requested by Esther.
On Purim itself, the book of Esther is read. A feast is held in the directives of Mordecai and Esther to give gifts to the needy and send food to friends in order to increase friendship are fulfilled, as is outlined in Esther 9:20-22.
Another prominent custom of the day that has evolved over the years is to dress up in costumes in order to demonstrate that things are not as they seem. While the hand of God is evident throughout the story of Esther, His name is never mentioned in the text itself. On Purim, we remember that even though God often seems hidden, or disguised in our lives, He is always there. US President Franklin D Roosevelt once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that there is something more important than fear.” In the Purim story, Esther is a shining example of courage, mainly because she was also the victim of intense fear.
What do you find interesting about the holiday of Purim?
I always found it curious that the Jewish people commemorate the fast of Esther the day before Purim, the 13th of Adar, because scripture tells us that the couriers announced Haman’s evil edict on the 13th day of Nissan. This is in Esther 3:12. The fast of Esther then was held during the middle of Nissan, which is actually Passover. The day chosen through lots to obliterate the Jews was actually 11 months later on the 14th of Adar. Moreover, during the time when the terrible decree was declared and Esther succeeded in saving the Jews, there were two fasts. One initiated by the people who reacted to Haman’s initial decree by fasting, weeping, and wailing, as we learned in Esther 4:3, and the one that Esther called before approaching the king, as we learn in Esther 4:16. Why do we only commemorate Esther’s fast?
According to Jewish teachings, while the story of Purim is about God’s providence behind the scenes, it is also about the importance of each individual person stepping up with courage to fulfill their God-given role. We can only fully appreciate the salvation that took place on Purim if we first appreciate the courage it took for one young orphan girl to step out in faith and courageously save her people. Esther’s fast brought about salvation. Her courage laid the groundwork for God to save His people. When my parents read me all those self-affirming books and taught me to hold Esther as a role model, I had no idea that these teachings would be essential to overcoming the greatest challenge I have ever encountered.