"This guy is a kingdom guy,'' said the Rev. Steve Munsey, gesturing toward Yechiel Eckstein. We were sitting in the greenroom of the Family Christian Center in Munster, Ind., about 40 minutes from Chicago. We were between Sunday-morning services, and Pastor Munsey was taking a break, kicking back to welcome his guest. ''What do I mean by kingdom guy?'' he said. ''Like a godfather in the Mafia, it's a term of respect.''
So begins the ever-so-curious tale of Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the rabbi who turned the seemingly least-likeliest group of people to fund Jewish projects, evangelical Christians, into the engine that drives second-largest charitable foundation in Israel, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. While far from completely accepted, especially by his fellow Orthodox rabbis, this man's efforts seem to be bridging a gap thought to be forever doomed to remain open and uncrossed.
From what I remember of the evangelicals in the town I grew up in (Dumas, AR, pop. 6400), I can't help but be at least a little skeptical of the motives behind why such people are funding Rabbi Eckestien's foundation. Then again, some of the most decent people I've known have come from such churches, and it would be completely within their character to support Israel simply because it's the right thing to do. At any rate, it's always better to judge a person by their actions than to speculate about their motives, and it's hard to argue with what the IFCJ works for, let alone what it actually achieves.