This book really showed you into their life..
On a bleak Chicago Saturday in the winter of 1989, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and his wife, Bonnie, rose early and put on their Sabbath finery. That morning their firstborn, Tamar, was to celebrate her bat mitzvah, the coming-of-age party that marks the twelfth birthday of Orthodox Jewish girls.
They had moved from New York to Chicago eleven years earlier, once he had finished up school for rabbi’s
To make ends meet, he held down weekend pulpits in small Orthodox congregations around the city, performed concerts, and sang at weddings with a band he put together.
Bonnie, his wife, saw this work as emotional neediness, and she didn’t like it. She had fallen in love with a rabbi’s son, who had played basketball for the Yeshiva University High School team and performed Hebrew folk music for adoring audiences on the kosher college music circuit. Now he seemed different, a driven and exhausted man with a dream she neither understood nor shared. Bonnie had nothing against Christians. She had known some at Barnard. It was the sort of Christians Yechiel was working with, and sometimes dragging home for Sabbath dinner—Republican Christians, Reaganites, full of Jesus talk and pious curiosity about the Shabbat rituals. Yechiel, thank God, was still a Democrat.
Family tensions were put aside that Shabbat morning, as they headed for the small Chabad shul in a strip mall near their home in Skokie. Yechiel’s downtown synagogue was too far for their friends and neighbors to reach on foot (Orthodox Jews are not allowed to travel by car on the Sabbath)
He did not want a repetition of his own bar mitzvah, when the stress of performing in front of his father’s congregation gave him an unstoppable nosebleed that forced him to scratch his sermonic “D’var Torah” speech.
Tamar wouldn’t be commenting on the weekly Torah portion during the service—Orthodox girls don’t do that—but she would be the centre of attention that morning, asked to speak at the party afterward. Yechiel wanted to make sure that she would be relaxed and happy.
They had decorated the hall in white and blue, for the occasion, they even replaced the stained table cloths with the theme color of blue.
A large cake inscribed with the words “Mazel Tov Tamar” was placed at the head of the tables.
Covered under his prayer shawl, Yechiel Eckstein felt something else: a sense of defiance. He was a seeker and a self-examiner, a chronic critic of his own motives. But at this moment he trusted his vision. A bridge uniting Christians and Jews could be built, and he felt destined to be the engineer.
He had no idea how hard the work would be, the price it would exact. He only knew, with a certainty he had never before felt, that he had no choice but to go ahead.
Now thirty years later, Eckstein recalls that certainty. “I felt humiliated and alone. It was the worst day of my life. But I never thought I was wrong. It didn’t even occur to me to quit. I have a personal relationship with God and I felt at the time that it was a divine mission, what is known in Hebrew as shlichut.
Sitting in the back of the shul that day, I thought about Abraham and Isaac. In the book of Genesis, God commands Abraham to take his son ‘to the land I will show you.’ He doesn’t tell Abraham where it is. He simply expects Abraham to obey. I had a moral certainty that came from God. And I still feel it. That’s what has guided my work and my life, from the beginning until today.”
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