Last month, the US-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) said it donated some $37 million in aid to Israel and the Jewish people in 2006 – $20 million of which were given during last summer’s war with Hizbullah.
The IFCJ channels millions of dollars to Israel every year, the sum total of donations by evangelical Christians who believe that the return of the Jewish people to Israel signals the coming of "the last days," fulfilling a prophecy they say will hasten the "second coming" of Jesus Christ.
IFCJ founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, said this Christian aid was divided into four categories: Aliyah (immigration to Israel), absorption of immigrants, fighting poverty and security.
"There is a further division of funds between Israel, and the rest of the world, mainly the (Jewish community in the) former Soviet Union," he added, speaking by phone from his Chicago headquarters.
Eckstein also named three programs, "Wings of Eagles, Immigration and Absorption, and Isaiah 58," all of which "raise money to fight poverty and help children in the former Soviet Union."
The fourth program, the Guardians of Israel, is aimed at fighting poverty and helping improve security within Israel, Eckstein explained.
"Around $7.5 million - $8 million went to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, based in New York, which gives to the elderly and children," Eckstein continued. "Habad or individual rabbis in the former Soviet Union received another couple of million," he said, adding, "All of this is paid with Isaiah 58 money, the poverty program in the former Soviet Union."
"Roughly $8 million -$9 million went to elderly Jewish people in former Soviet Union for their basic needs," Eckstein said.
Returning to donations destined for Israel, Eckstein said: "Then we have the aliyah component which is the Jewish Agency. Last year (2006) we gave roughly $6 million to $7 million to the Jewish Agency. The donations went to around 200 different programs in over 115 cities in Israel."
'All money goes to charity'
The IFCJ founder also said well-known private aliyah programs such as Nefesh B'Nefesh could not have existed without these contributions. "We gave them, in their first year, $2 million to start them off,” Eckstein said. He added: "Frankly, when they got the money, they were embarrassed. From a public relations view, they didn't want to share the credit with Christians. So it tends to be dropped from their agenda."
Other funds go to "social programs all over Israel, such as shelters for battered Haredi women," Eckstein added.
A further $2 million went to the “Yuli Tamir lunch program," aimed at giving kindergarten children from disadvantaged homes a meal," Eckstein said.
He added: "Some $115,000 were channeled to the Bedouin town of Rahat in Negev."
"Every once in while something new arises, like the terror attack on the synagogue in Turkey, demanding funds," Eckstein said.
Eckstein emphasized that the "money is not given directly to any place, but rather, the IFCJ works with the programs, and with institutions such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Absorption, Ministry of Interior."
"But we don't give them money. We give it to charity," Eckstein said. "Everything is done through charity."
The IFCJ founder also complained over the lack of awareness of IFCJ funds. "Sometimes it's a desire on the part of a group or nation to have its own identity. It's not necessarily because the source is Christian," he added.
Most of the time, Eckstein said, organizations were shy to admit to receiving Christian aid due to "their own desire to promote themselves."
Problems on both ends
In the evangelical world, Rabbi Eckstein also faces problems. A glance at the Evangelical Ministry Watch website (LINK: http://www.ministrywatch.org/mw2.1/F_SumRpt.asp?EIN=363256096 ) shows that he has come under criticism by evangelicals for attempting to stop missionizing attempts by evangelicals among Jews.
"There is… an abiding and seemingly irreducible tension that marks IFCJ's mission," Ministry Watch said. "That tension is accounted for by two factors: Evangelical Christianity's non-negotiable belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah and only Savior of the world, who must be proclaimed and defended as such by his followers… (and) the unequivocal rejection of Jesus as Messiah and Savior by Judaism and Jewish people in general, and by Rabbi Eckstein in particular.
“What makes this issue relevant to IFCJ's mission is Rabbi Eckstein's public censures of evangelistic activity among Jewish people. This has led some conservative Christians to believe that association with Eckstein compromises the Gospel," the website said.
"Eckstein has gone so far as to say that evangelization efforts directed towards Jews is based upon 'anti-Semitic prejudices,' tantamount to 'spiritual genocide,' and that such efforts stem from either pure arrogance or a deep ignorance," it continued.