Years ago, I wrote a piece on Rabbi Eckstein who headed IFCJ. He has since died and his daughter, Yael, has taken over the running of IFCJ.
I have decided to republish the piece on the Rabbi, and at the end I will update the reader about Yael Eckstein.
Do NOT Give Your Money To International Fellowship of Christians and Jews – IFCJ
We have all seen the commercials from Rabbi Eckstein of IFCJ (International Fellowship of Christians and Jews), asking for your money to support his cause. He shows Jews in Israel – so hungry, that they are fighting each other to get the boxes of food. He says “Jews are so poor; they cannot even afford to buy matzo for Passover.”
Well, I have a few things to say about the good Rabbi – did I say good? Maybe you won’t think so after reading about this man and his organization.
Years ago, I began getting emails and mail from IFCJ. At first I thought that this was wonderful. But I wanted to vet this man to make sure he was on the up and up.
I knew many believers who gave religiously (pun intended) to Rabbi Eckstein. They seemed to think this man could do no wrong, and wanted to be a partner in supporting the Jewish people.
I started reading about him. He was not a believer in Yeshua. As a matter of fact, he is an Orthodox Rabbi. I actually wrote to him several times, and told him of my belief in Yeshua. I told him that he could not be saved without the forgiveness and belief in Yeshua. I never received a reply.
A few years ago, I saw Rabbi Eckstein on a Christian TV station. He was singing Jewish songs, and talking about Judaism. It seemed to me that his purpose in doing this was perhaps to get his followers to become Jews. Now, with the Hebrew Roots cult abounding everywhere, I wonder how many of these folks were influenced by the Rabbi.
Before Moishe Rosen of Jews for Jesus went home to be with Yeshua, he wrote in “Moishe’s Musings” an article in which he spoke of Rabbi Eckstein. Here is an excerpt from his article:
From Moishe’s Musings of Jews for Jesus
“There is another kind of “lifestyle evangelism” that I can’t endorse. It’s the kind where people congratulate one another that actions speak louder than words, and that if others know they are a Christian, they need not say anything about Jesus so long as they live exemplary lives.
Isn’t it interesting that Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, an Orthodox Jew, promoted this kind of evangelism in his article “Witnessing vs. Proselytizing,” which was posted online at the Christianity Today website. Eckstein concludes, “If Christians want to share their faith with Jews, they should start by being good friends and neighbors, and wherever possible, ‘good Samaritans.’ Evangelicals call this style of witnessing ‘lifestyle evangelism,’ and it seems to me a self-evidently superior form of outreach.” [Before you take that ringing endorsement of how to witness to Jewish people, you need to know that] Eckstein is a man of great sensitivity and tact, but he is not a believer and his goal is not to see other Jews become believers. Helping people win Jews to Christ would make Eckstein anathema in the Jewish community. Yet some Christians regard him as an expert on how to successfully share their faith. Ecktstein claims to uphold the Christian mandate to witness, but eventually he discloses his opinion that it is arrogant for Christians to think that Jewish people need Jesus.
I think that Christians should be concerned that Rabbi Eckstein has gained quite a platform among evangelical Christians. As reasonable and affirming of the Christian religion as Eckstein might seem, his commitment as an Orthodox rabbi is still at odds with those of us committed to seeing all people, including Jewish people, find salvation in Jesus.
I’m afraid that some Christians have been so flattered by Eckstein’s approach that the utter lack of logic in using him as an authority on Jewish evangelism escapes them. In a way, I am glad that Eckstein speaks so highly of “lifestyle evangelism” because it affords thinking Christians the opportunity to reflect on how to fulfill the Great Commission. The kind of lifestyle evangelism Eckstein praises centers on how nice people can be, whereas the Bible centers on why the cross is so necessary. And then there is the matter of his income. Oy vey – WHAT an income!
I found this information on many credible sites, but this from Charisma Magazine, articulated the facts so well:
As the head of a nonprofit that is almost entirely supported by donations, what makes Yechiel Eckstein’s compensation noteworthy is its proportion to his organization’s overall income compared to other ministries. While the salary and benefit package of the head of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (ICFJ) is at least five times higher than any other leader of an Israel-related ministry, clocking in at $1.2 million, Eckstein’s compensation is more than double what the president of World Vision—a ministry with a budget 10 times larger—earns.
World Vision’s Richard Stearns earned $456,718 in salary and benefits in 2011, according to the organization’s tax return. But World Vision has a $1 billion annual budget, whereas last year IFCJ’s budget was $113 million.
*****I want the reader to know that since the writing of this piece, World Vision has partnered with the U.N. Need I say more?
Meanwhile, Billy Graham, founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), earned $228,448 in total compensation in 2011, and his son, Franklin Graham, president of BGEA, earned $115,307. The organization is similar in size to the IFCJ with $92 million in revenues in 2011.
***** Franklin was caught taking a salary of $1.2 million a year and says that he rectified that.
Linda Lampkin, resource director for the Economic Research Institute office in Washington, D.C., calculated the average direct compensation for executive directors at similar-sized religious organizations and found Eckstein’s pay is well above the average, which is $276,807. The computer-generated comparison showed executive directors at organizations with similar-sized budgets—$100-$110 million—earned anywhere from $163,675 to $389,938 annually.
“It is fair to say an executive director at a religious organization who makes nearly $500,000 annually in direct compensation and also has significant other compensation is paid well outside the mean ranges of executive directors at similar organizations with an approximate $100 million to $110 million in revenues,” Lampkin told Charisma.
How much are those in charge of these Israel-related ministries actually making?
It’s often implied that any leader of a nonprofit ministry or organization who earns more than Mother Teresa is somehow gouging the public. Obviously, that isn’t true. Running a large organization—whether a college, a hospital or a church—is complicated and requires hard work. By not paying market-rate salaries, the talent needed to run such organizations tends to go to where he or she can be compensated commensurate with his or her ability. Even Jesus said a “laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7).
Some organizations don’t like to reveal what their leaders make, however, because they fear donations would decrease if people knew. In the world of Christian ministries, that’s especially true—as proven by such examples as the short-lived “scandal” surrounding Franklin Graham’s compensation package as the head of both Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
At the same time, in American culture there is a feeling that some financial matters should be out in the open. For example, it’s required by law that the public knows the salaries of elected officials. And those who run a publicly owned company must publicize the salaries of top management so investors can make investing decisions based on whether they feel those leaders are looking out for the investor or themselves.
Even the Bible says people do things differently in the light than in darkness. So in that spirit, Charisma inquired about the salaries of some of the ministries’ leaders.
We found ministry leaders’ pay ranged from zero to that of Eckstein. By comparison, leaders from three of the other largest Israel-related ministries earned substantially less: Jonathan Bernis earned $224,233 in total compensation (salary and benefits), Jews for Jesus Executive Director David Brickner earned $200,000 and Chosen People Ministries President Mitch Glaser earned $174,767. (The salary and benefit package of Christians United for Israel Executive Director David Brog could not be obtained.)
Among the other ministries, no salary was above $90,500. And with Eckstein’s removed from the equation, the average salary of those leaders willing to disclose their compensation—and including those who take no salary—was $85,856.
How We Came Up With This Report
Given the magnitude and importance of the mission of Israel-related ministries—and in an effort to help promote financial transparency, integrity in fundraising efforts and the proper use of donations—Charisma requested financial information from 17 Israel-related ministries.
To begin its seven-month investigation into the financial stewardship of these ministries, Charisma requested financial information from each organization, along with an interview with its president or lead representative. We also obtained the 990 tax returns that some of the ministries voluntarily filed with GuideStar, which tracks the finances of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits. Under federal law, ministries are not required to publicly disclose tax returns, but some do so voluntarily to be financially transparent.
In its examination of ministry finances, Charisma also consulted with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), which accredits various ministries, and Charity Navigator, an independent nonprofit organization that evaluates American charities. Of the 17 ministries, the following seven are accredited by ECFA: Chosen People Ministries, Jews for Jesus, Christian Friends of Israel, Bridges for Peace, Maoz Israel, Jewish Voice Ministries International and the Messianic Jewish Israel Fund.
Having worked with many of the ministries in the past and seen their fruit up close through the years, Charisma’s intent was not to dig up any figurative buried skeletons, but instead to inform our readers as to the unique vision, purpose and scope of ministry for each organization. We believe financial stewardship goes hand in hand with this and, as a result, celebrate those Israel-related ministries that are taking every precaution to be faithful with what God has given them.
Over $1 million a year?? That is absolutely sinful and wrong on so many levels. There is a word for a person like this in Yiddish – Goniff. It means a thief. I’m sorry to have to use this term, but what else can I call him?
If you give to International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, you may want to find another organization to which to donate your money. The Charisma magazine mentions some very good ones.
Do your homework! We have the Internet, and you can vet a person or organization very easily.
Personally, hubby and I give to Chosen People Ministries. It’s a wonderful, transparent organization.
Please continue giving to the Jewish people. Some very good ministries help Jews in Europe to make Aliyah.
Thank you for caring!
Update about Yael Eckstein (daughter of deceased Rabbi Eckstein)
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Taps Evangelicals for Support
But do evangelicals know what they’re giving to?
If you watch Christian television – Trinity Broadcasting Network, The Inspiration Network, World Harvest TV, or GEB TV — you’ve probably seen the ads. One emotional ad promises to provide bread, a blanket, and medicine to an elderly Holocaust survivor, all for just $25. Another shows a Russian woman thanking God for a “blessing box”containing food.
They’re from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. For years, the ads featured Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the group’s founder. Sometimes they still do, even though Eckstein died last year of a heart attack at age 67.
Today, though, they often feature his daughter, Yael Eckstein. Upon her father’s death, she inherited leadership of one of the largest charities in the world, with more than $115-million in annual revenue, much of it coming from evangelical Christians in the United States.
That giving from evangelicals comes despite the fact that “The Fellowship,” as it often calls itself, doesn’t promote the Christian gospel and it pays senior leadership huge salaries. Yechiel Eckstein made more than $700,000 per year. As a vice president before her father’s death, Yael Eckstein made more than $400,000.
Since the group’s founding in 1983, the organization has taken in at least $1.5-billion, most of it from evangelical Christians.
Building A Non-Profit Powerhouse
Yechiel Eckstein founded what was originally called the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews in Chicago in 1983. He said the primary goal of the organization was “to promote dialogue and bridge-building between Christians and Jews.” In those days, much of his support came from Jewish donors.
But then the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed a few years later. Jews from the former Soviet Union started fleeing to Israel, the United States, and many other countries. Some evangelical and fundamentalists Christians believe the creation of the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Some also saw the fall of the officially atheistic Soviet Union as being a further fulfillment of prophecy. Supporting Israel became a cause celebre for many Christians, an activity they believed would hasten the return of Christ.
For Yechiel Eckstein, the confluence of events became an opportunity. He started “On Wings of Eagles,” a project to bring Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel. The first plane load arrived in 1992.
And every plane load provided heart-wrenching photos and videos to go with dramatic stories that were fund-raising gold. The Fellowship quickly gets these stories on television. In 2018, it spent more than $16-million on fundraising activities, most of that on Christian television and radio buys.
Even though IFCJ is not a Christian ministry, nor are either of the Ecksteins Christian believers, they have learned to speak “evangelicalese,” in part by partnering with powerful behind-the-scenes players in the evangelical world. For direct mail and other marketing services, for example, it uses The Bigham Agency. That agency is run by fundraising guru Paul Bigham, who made his reputation in the evangelical world by building the direct marketing operation of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries. In 2018, IFCJ paid Bigham nearly $8-million.
For radio production and marketing, IFCJ used Colorado Springs-based Westar Media Group, which earned nearly $1-million for its services. With the exception of IFCJ, Westar handles almost exclusively Christian accounts, including Classical Conversations and the International Gospel Hour.
These relationships, and this kind of money, have bought IFCJ a seat at the evangelical table, and have tended to deflect tough questions from Christian media about doctrine, theology, and business practices – such as the out-sized salaries for the Ecksteins.
However, IFCJ is not a Christian organization. Media consultant Phil Cooke said, “People assume they’re giving to a Christian organization, but they’re not.”
Jonathan Bernis is president of The Jewish Voice, an evangelical Christian ministry that does relief and evangelistic work to Jewish people both in Israel and in other Jewish communities around the world. He shares Cooke’s concern that many evangelical Christians believe they are giving to a Christian organization when they contribute to The Fellowship.
“They are not a Christian ministry,” Bernis said. “In fact, Yechiel Eckstein was very much opposed to Jews becoming Christians.”
Eckstein’s own book, What Christians Should Know About Jews and Judaism includes such passages as “A Jew who accepts Jesus as Lord or Messiah effectively ceases to be Jew” (page 296). Eckstein adds, “From a Jewish point of view, Messianic Jews are a front for Evangelical Christians who try to wean Jews away from their ancestral faith by lulling them into believing they can accept Jesus and still remain Jewish.”
Bernis concluded, “His ministry has pulled millions and millions of dollars from ministries who are trying to bring the Gospel to the Jewish people.”
Bernis has another concern with the fundraising tactics of IFCJ. “They use old infomercials that do not accurately portray the plight of Jews today,” he said. The ads, he says, “show a level of poverty that simply doesn’t exist anymore in the Jewish territories.” But they tug at the heartstrings of evangelical donors, and they produce results. Bernis said, “Christians have a heart for Jews, but Christians would not be happy if they knew how their money was being spent.”
For these reasons and others, MinistryWatch issued a “Donor Alert” regarding the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews as far back as 2013. MinistryWatch encouraged Christians to refrain from giving to IFCJ and support other organizations instead that offer both humanitarian and spiritual help – including The Jewish Voice, Joshua Fund, and Bridges for Peace.
Controversy In Israel, Too
Eckstein also hasn’t avoided controversy in the country he said he is trying to help: Israel.
A key part of the work of the IFCJ is to help Jews from other parts of the world live permanently in Israel. The practice is called “making aliyah,” for the act of “going up” to Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency is a quasi-governmental organization that oversees the immigration process into Israel. The IFCJ has always had something of a troubled relationship with The Jewish Agency.
According to The Times of Israel: “Israel and the immigration establishment would…be happy to accept the money he raised, but bristled when he demanded a seat at the table in setting policy for immigration and absorption.” Eventually, though, Eckstein became a member of the Jewish Agency’s board, and The Fellowship poured millions of dollars into the coffers of The Jewish Fund.
But, according to Jewish Voice’s Bernis, The Jewish Agency has not been a friend to evangelical Christians. “Jewish believers have a problem with The Jewish Agency,” Bernis said, “The Jewish Agency is supposed to help Jews who face persecution and physical danger immigrate to Israel, but the position of The Jewish Agency is that if a Jew converts to Christianity he is no longer a Jew. The Jewish Agency will leave behind Jewish Christians, often to face anti-Semitism and physical danger.”
The bottom line: Not only were evangelical Christians contributing to a non-Christian organization, the IFCJ, they were also indirectly funding The Jewish Agency, which did little to help Jewish Christians.
Eckstein ultimately withdrew the IFCJ from the Jewish Agency – not because of its anti-Christian policies, but because it wouldn’t submit to the IFCJ’s demands for publicity. A list of 22 demands the IFCJ made to The Jewish Agency was made public by the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The demands included giving The Fellowship more recognition of its funding of The Jewish Agency. The Haaretz articles led to accusations against Eckstein that he was a self-promoter.
Before Eckstein’s death, Haaretz also wrote articles critical of him. One example:“Eckstein’s trademark – tapping poor evangelical Christians in America’s South by showing them tear-jerking videos about poverty in Israel – is well-known. What is less well-known is that Eckstein himself is well compensated by the fund, taking in about a million dollars a year, including pension provisions.”
But Eckstein defended his demands for recognition, saying he was in fact seeking recognition not for himself, but for American evangelicals, who are still viewed with some suspicion in Israel. “If [The Jewish Agency is] going to accept funds from us,” he said in 2014, they need to make that public. “We’re not going to be the stepchild where you’re accepting funds from Christians because you want it, but then you’re not publicly saying ‘thank you’ to the Christian community for supporting us,” he said.
Passing The Torch
Since Yael Eckstein has been involved in the ministry for years, often working directly with major donors, it was no surprise when she took over upon her father’s death. In fact, four years ago, according to The Times of Israel, “he blessed her, literally – the moment was captured on video — after determining that she would be the best person to carry on his work. He began to mentor her, handing over more and more responsibility and decision-making power.”
“Here in Israel I just want to keep my father’s legacy alive,” Yael Eckstein says.
She will have her hands full. Even before her father died, fundraising had started to slip. In 2015, IFCJ raised more than $135-million. That was a high-water mark for the organization. Every year since has been slightly less than the year before. 2019 revenue was $117-million. Meanwhile, management and administrative costs continued to rise, and fundraising costs in 2019 topped $19-million. That means fundraising costs topped 16 percent of revenue, and fundraising and management costs combined were just short of 30 percent. Both numbers were far worse than their peers in the MinistryWatch database.
One of the new ways IFCJ has tapped into evangelical wallets has been to build an International Center for Christian Outreach in Jerusalem. Israeli news reports said the facility was supposed to serve as a gathering spot for the more than 1 million Christians who visit Israel each year. Land was purchased for the center and – according to news reports — half of the $60 million needed to build it has been raised.
However, with Eckstein’s death and the decline in revenue, the project was canceled. Though IFCJ raised tens of millions of dollars for the building, there’s now no mention of it on the group’s website. Michael Kormanik, a spokesman for IFCJ, confirmed that the project had been shelved. “The Fellowship cancelled the project a year ago,” he said. “The decision to cancel plans for the building was a difficult one.”
So what happened to the money raised to build the center? MinistryWatch repeatedly posed that question to the IFCJ. So far, no response.