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As President and CEO of IFCJ, Yael Eckstein oversees all ministry programs and serves as the international spokesperson. Prior to assuming her present role, Yael served as Global Executive Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Director of Program Development and Ministry Outreach. With over a decade of non-profit experience in multiple roles, Yael has the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of the world’s largest religious charitable organizations.
Yael Eckstein is a published writer and a respected social services professional. She has contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, Townhall.com, and other publications, and is the author of three books: Holy Land Reflections: A Collection of Inspirational Insights from Israel, Spiritual Cooking with Yael, and Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children.
Her thoughts on the Jewish faith and Jewish-Christian relations can be heard on The Fellowship’s radio ministry programs, including Holy Land Moments and Israel Today, which are broadcast on nearly 1,000 radio stations around the world. In 2021, she launched her weekly podcast, Nourish Your Biblical Roots, in which she shares spiritual insights and lessons from the Torah. And each month, Yael invites leading Christian and Jewish thought leaders to her podcast to discuss Jewish-Christian relations and Israel’s significance on the world stage on Conversations with Yael.
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 in 2015 served on a Religious Liberty Panel in Washington, D.C. The same year, Yael’s influence as one of the young leaders in Israel was featured as the cover story of Nashim [Women] magazine. In 2019, The Algemeiner named Yael to the Jewish 100, citing the positive influence she has made to Jewish life, and referring to her as “the world’s leading Jewish interfaith activist.” In 2020 and 2021, she was named to the Jerusalem Post’s list of 50 Most Influential Jews.
Born just outside of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, Yael was 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. She is based in Israel with her husband and their four children.
In this interview, Yael Eckstein, President and CEO of IFCJ reviews how to create lasting change in the New Year.
Tell us about your podcast!
I have two podcasts. In my weekly podcast, Nourish Your Biblical Roots, I explore the ancient Jewish roots of Christianity and their relevance to people’s lives today. It’s a unique journey through the Bible that I hope will deepen your personal connection with Israel and offer inspirational insights into your Christian faith
My second podcast, which airs monthly, is called Conversations with Yael, and it takes my teachings on the Jewish roots of Christianity and it translates that understanding into ongoing support for the state and people of Israel in a practical way.
Each month, I’m inviting influential guests to discuss the importance of Israel to the world today. We’ll discuss the historical and biblical significance of Israel, the state of Jewish-Christian relations, and the critical need for Christians to support Israel, particularly now as anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment continues to increase.
You talk about the significance of 30-day commitments. How can 30 days lead to significant change in our lives?
There are 30-day challenges for everything, from decluttering your house to getting in shape, to cleaning up your finances. Each of these challenges is meant to help us create significant change in 30 days. But I want to introduce you to a 30-day challenge that the Jewish people have been taking part of every year for thousands of years. It’s a 30-day program to take our spiritual lives to the next level as we enter the new year on the Jewish calendar.
The entire month before the high holidays, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is actually designated as a time for introspection and change. This month on the Hebrew calendar is called Elul. And during Elul, we take 30 days to upgrade our spiritual lives before the new year begins. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the creation of the world. It’s a time to celebrate.
But of course, it’s also a time to evaluate. The same way that we need to have an annual checkup of our physical health, we need to have an annual check-in to support our spiritual health. Taking this time to reflect on our lives helps us stay on the right path, headed in the right direction. If we don’t take this time, it’s easy to find ourselves way off track later down the line.
How can Elul lead to lasting change?
During the month of Elul, the Jewish people blow the shofar, the ritual trumpet mentioned in the Bible, every day. Its purpose is to wake us up from the spiritual slumber that we fall into during the year, so that we become aware of where we are spiritually and what we might need to change.
We blow the shofar every day for a month before the Jewish new year because change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that takes some time. And if we wait until Rosh Hashanah, it’s too late.
True growth is a gradual process, a process that happens over time, a process the Bible says happens over a month. The month of Elul gives us enough time to lay the groundwork for real and lasting change. According to Jewish tradition, every day during the month of Elul, a heavenly voice calls out. “Plow the fields. Don’t plant for the thorns and weeds.”
What does this mean? It means that we need to attend to our inner garden during the month of Elul, so that the seeds we plant for the new year will grow and thrive all year round.
How can we make the best use of Elul?
The 30 days of Elul are our time to ask ourselves some important questions like, what bad habits are holding me back from what I want to be, and what do I need to remove from my life because it is holding me back spiritually? It can be intimidating to think about staying away from gossip forever, or getting rid of anger permanently. But can you do it for just 30 days? That’s enough time to make a significant change. Getting rid of behaviors and beliefs that harm us is one aspect of preparing our inner garden during Elul.
The other is nurturing and nourishing our spirit so that our inner environment is conducive to growth. During the month of Elul, Jews set aside more time for Bible study, prayer, and developing our relationship with God.
This is the call of Elul, to examine where we are in our life’s journey and to take steps in the right direction. I hope that you will join the Jewish people this month or whenever you are reading this and heed that call. When you take 30 days and dedicate them to God, you set yourself up for a successful year and a blessed life.