I am living the Jewish dream. For nearly 2,000 years, since the destruction of the holy temple in Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jewish people from Israel, my people have prayed and hoped for one thing, “to be a free people in our own land” (“Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem).
In 2005, my husband and I decided to realize that dream of returning to Israel and living in the Holy Land. Today, I am blessed to raise my family in our biblical homeland.
But I grew up living the American dream. I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, where I enjoyed the freedom and opportunities that this great country provided for my family. My parents sent me to an outstanding Jewish school, where I received an excellent education, and our family was part of an active and vibrant Jewish community.
We spent our weekends at the synagogue, and our lives revolved around the Jewish calendar and life cycle events. We lit our Sabbath candles every Friday, we built our sukkah in the backyard during Sukkot, we gathered with family and friends around the seder table to celebrate Passover. My childhood is filled with the memories of these moadim, “appointed times,” where the stories of our faith were shared, and the fundamental values of Judaism were reinforced and celebrated.
It was only when I was older that I understood that Jewish life had not always been that way. In fact, life for the Jewish people has rarely been as wonderful and comfortable and free over the course of the last two millennia. Rather, Jewish history has been a long and arduous journey that began in the promised land and continued through two exiles, to the “four quarters of the earth” (Isa. 11:12b, NIV), leaving a trail of persecution, destruction and terror.
Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. As president of The Fellowship, 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.
This article is an excerpt from Yael Eckstein’s upcoming book, Generation to Generation.