As we approach this season of Thanksgiving and an extraordinarily challenging year nears its close, it may be difficult for many of us to think of what we are thankful for. Each of us has been touched in some way by the coronavirus pandemic and the severe economic cost of the lockdowns meant to prevent its spread. Cases seem to increase despite efforts at containment, some of which have come at great cost not just to our economic wellbeing, but our mental health.
Even with people working around the clock to create a vaccine, we face the reality that such scientific advancements must be pursued methodically and safely. They take time. This has caused anxiety, which has turned to frustration, with many wondering if this strange and unsettling time will ever come to an end.
For those responsible for managing charitable organizations around the world, as I am, this time has also posed a dilemma: How do we take care of the rising needs of the people we serve, even as we seek to take care of ourselves and our loved ones? At the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), we’ve witnessed firsthand that Israel and parts of the former Soviet Union (FSU) are among the hardest hit by the virus. Responding to the unprecedented and unforeseen need in these regions, when so many people have fewer financial resources, is no small hurdle to overcome.
But The Fellowship has found the solution: our supporters. They most certainly rise to the top of my list of reasons to be thankful this year. These predominantly Christian supporters give generously, and in some cases have done so for years, to fill the needs among impoverished Jewish populations in both Israel and the FSU. And one thing I have learned this year is that, while the virus may have changed much of the world, it has not changed this fundamental fact about our donors. They give sacrificially; they give out of love and faith; they give in good times and in bad. And they do so not to further their own agendas, but simply to bless Israel and Jewish people in need with their kindness and compassion.
The effects of that kindness and compassion have been astounding. During this very difficult year, we have been able to provide emergency medical equipment to hospitals; food assistance to widows, orphans, refugees, and families in Israel; and emergency aid to the Jewish community in the FSU. Due to the quick, effective, and strategic distribution method we created and implemented, the Israeli government has turned to us to provide emergency funds to families around the country. All told, Christians have allowed us to give an additional $20 million to meet the needs of those affected by the coronavirus crisis.
Israel prayed for a miracle — someone to come and help them with their basic needs — and Christians in America have responded.
Christian love and support for Israel has been visible on the world stage as well. In the last few months, Israel has normalized relations with some of her Arab neighbors who were long considered enemies, in part because of Christian involvement and dedication to advancing peace. The peace deals Israel has struck with the UAE and Bahrain, along with the preliminary peace deal with Sudan, could change the status quo in the region and lead to peace and greater prosperity for all — giving those of us in Israel yet another reason to be thankful this year. Both Jews and Christians have been praying for the peace of Jerusalem for centuries, and it is inspiring to think how much closer we are than ever to achieving it.
Thanksgiving Day isn’t celebrated in Israel, but having come from the U.S., it is a day that I always observe and regard as a holy day. This Thanksgiving, I will give thanks to God for Israel’s many Christian friends who support us so faithfully. In a year when it may be difficult to find things to be thankful for, my soul is bursting with hope and thankfulness because of the many good things our special friends in America have brought to the Holy Land.
Yael Eckstein is the president and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. In this role, she also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of the world’s largest, religious not-for-profit organizations, having raised $1.8 billion — mostly from Christians — to assist Israel and the Jewish people. She is the author of the book released earlier this year, Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to our Children.