The founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Modern Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, has compared haredi attacks on the charity organization he founded to “Nazi Europe." “It makes me think of Nazi Europe in the past and about the wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment we see in Europe today." And that haredi slander and fear-mongering is about to derail Jewish summer camps for needy children.
Above: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Haredi Fear-Mongering Set To Derail Summer Camps For Needy Kids
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Modern Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, has compared haredi attacks on the charity organization he founded to “Nazi Europe,” Ha’aretz reported.
“It makes me think of Nazi Europe in the past and about the wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment we see in Europe today,” Eckstein reportedly said.
The American-born Eckstein is best known in the US as the host of late night informercials raising money – primarily from fundamentalist Christians – for poor Jews in Eastern Europe and Israel.
Eckstein’s organization reportedly donated $75 million in the Commonwealth of Independent States and Israel in 2013 alone.
But many Israeli haredi rabbis, who often know little about the US and nothing about other religions, falsely accuse it of trying to convert Jews to Christianity and have banned Jewish charities and individual Jews from accepting Eckstein’s organization’s money.
In 2009, haredi supreme leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyahiv said that taking money from Eckstein's organization, "ignores the prohibition against idol worship." He also said that taking its money "assists missionary activity in the future" and called taking the money "an unclean act."
One of things the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews funds in Israel are summer camps held in cooperation with the Education Ministry.
Moderate Zionist Orthodox and Modern Orthodox rabbis have reportedly approved these camps.
But hardline Zionist Orthodox rabbis and haredi rabbis have not, and the haredi rabbis have launched an organized campaign against the camps.
When Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron announced the summer camp project, haredi rabbis started a media campaign against it. Ads against the project, created by a PR and ad agency for the haredi rabbis and claiming that Eckstein’s organization was trying to “create a Christian influence on the Israeli public,” were printed in haredi newspapers. And the haredi rabbis also petitioned the High Court of Justice to have the camps stopped.
The moderate Zionist Orthodox Tzohar rabbinic organization is reportedly spearheading the defense of Ecksterin’s organization. (Education Minister Piron is a member of Tzohar.)
Last week, leading Tzohar rabbis wrote that accepting funds from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was permissible.
“The contributors don’t know their beneficiaries personally and have no personal influence on them,” the rabbis wrote, adding that they had received assurances from the Education Ministry that the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews would have no say over or be involved with the camp programs or the content taught campers – something Eckstein also reportedly says.
Eckstein said the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews donor base is made up primarily of 13,000 contributors who are primarily elderly, “Protestant” and female, and give small amounts of money. Many are retired and live on Social Security.
“Most of them are Protestant women, aged 60-80, who believe in the Bible. They believe we are the chosen people and that’s why they must bless us…These Christians are our most important friends and the rabbis who attack them offend these people’s amazing generosity. That’s not the Jewish way. Hitting the hand that’s stretched out to you is not a Jewish value,” Eckstein said.
Eckstein also noted that the camp project and his organization’s funding of it was initiated by the Education Ministry and are is meant to help 13,000 children needy children.
This year, the the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews will give the camps $10 million dollars – a minority of the amount needed to fund them. The government, Eckstein said, is paying most of the cost for this year.
Haredim and right wing Zionist Orthodox rabbis reject the claim that the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews won’t have any input on what the camps teach or do – although they have little, if any, evidence to back up their assertions.
But their opposition has caused state-funded Zionist Orthodox schools to drop out of the camp project, and Eckstein says it is now likely that camps planned for Kiryat Shmona and Kiryat Arba won’t take place.
“Who suffers in the end? The innocent people, the children, the elderly, the Holocaust survivors who don’t know the truth [and don’t take the help they need because of haredi rabbis’ fear-mongering],” Eckstein said.
The original haredi campaign against International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was mounted by Yad L'Achim and its head, Chabad Rabbi Sholom Ber Lifshitz. Lifshitz made several false allegations about International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, most of which were based on confusing (or intentionally distorting) basic Christian terminology and the English language.
But even though its claims against the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews were false, Yad L'Achim campaign took hold, sparking condemnation of Eckstein's charity by Elyashiv and other leading haredi rabbis – including Chabad's rabbinic council in Israel.
Update 10:2530 am CDT – A group of parents of children in state-funded Zionist Orthodox schools filed a petition with the High Court of Justice, asking it to stop the Education Ministry from taking $10 million in charitable donations from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to fund summer camps for Israel’s needy children.
The parents and Zionist Orthodox educational nonprofit Merimim et Hadegel (Raising the Flag) allege the ministry’s partnership with the fellowship violates criteria requiring open competition. They allege other organizations should have been given the opportunity to donate to the ministry’s new camp program and to receive publicity in exchange for doing so.
The petitioners also insist the Education Ministry should pay for the camps in full and not rely on outside money unless it gives other organizations a fair and equal chance to contribute money in exchange for publicity of their donations generated by the ministry.
However, it is highly unlikely these parents would agree to allowing Messianic Jewish organizations or the Catholic Church or a Hindu Movement donate to the camps or, so it’s idea of open competition or open participation in funding is really likely quite limited.
According to Ha’aretz, the petitioners “include a couple from Lod who refuse to let their daughter attend the subsidized summer camp for fear the fellowship will influence the content taught at the camp. Another couple, from Psagot, cannot send their daughter to summer camp due to the community’s rabbis’ ban on the program. Now the parents are forced to pay the full price of summer camp elsewhere.”