The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will bestow its prestigious Raoul Wallenberg Award on Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (ICFJ). JDC is honoring Eckstein for his contribution to the Jewish people as founder and president of ICFJ, an interfaith group that has brought Christian and Jewish communities around the world together and raised over $1 billion for Jews in need in the former Soviet Union and Israel. Additionally, Rabbi Eckstein serves as dean and member of the executive committee of Limmud FSU.
Eckstein will be the fourth recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Award, joining the ranks of Donn Weinberg, Edgar Bronfman, and Elie Wiesel.
The prize is named after Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who used his diplomatic status to save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II. Thanks to JDC funding, Wallenberg issued and distributed thousands of Swedish protective passports to the Jews of Budapest, set up a network of shelters under the auspices of the Swedish crown as safe havens for Jews and pressured senior Nazi and Hungarian officials to stop transporting Jews to Auschwitz – even confronting SS soldiers and physically intervening to stop their expulsion. At the end of an exhaustive campaign to save Hungarian Jews he was captured by Soviet troops and held in captivity. His fate is unknown. For his endeavors, Wallenberg was named a Righteous Gentile.
Since he founded the IFCJ in 1983, Eckstein has built bridges of understanding and cooperation between Jews and Christians and bolstered support for Israel and the Jewish world. Eckstein has raised over $250 million with JDC and other organizations to help tens of thousands of children, senior citizens and Jewish families in Europe and the former Soviet Union, providing them with food, medicine, schooling and other basic needs. Eckstein’s motivation has been the stern belief that human beings deserve to live in dignity and he has pursued this goal with vigor and passion.