It is hard to believe that an entire year has passed since my dear father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, left this world.
My father died unexpectedly of a heart attack, but it was my heart that was shattered. I spoke to him every Friday before Shabbat and several times during the week. He was at every family birthday party and we spent all of the holidays together. I also had the privilege of working with my father at The Fellowship for 15 years. I simply couldn't imagine life without him.
A Lasting Memorial
After the Shiva, the week of mourning, I started a tradition with my family every Friday evening. Jews light Sabbath candles at sundown, and we decided to light a memorial candle in honor of my father at this time every week. Once the candles were lit, we shared memories of my father and spent a few moments remembering the love and light that he brought to our lives.
This sacred time each week helped us through our journey of mourning. Recently it occurred to me how much our weekly commemorations have changed. When we began this custom, the moments were bittersweet – more bitter than sweet. I took comfort in the memories but they also underscored how much I had lost.
Yet, sometime in the past year, I realized that I hadn't really lost my father. In some ways, I feel his presence more than I ever did before.
'Love is Strong as Death'
In the Jewish tradition, we believe that a righteous person is considered even more "alive" after death than when they were living. This is because when a soul is in a body, it is confined by time, space, and all physical limitations. When my father was alive, either he was with me or he was not. But when a soul is freed from the body, it is like a light that can shine brightly anywhere at any time.
Now, I feel my father's presence all of the time. Moreover, the righteous live on through the good deeds done in their lifetime and through the love that they shared while living. As Scripture says, "Love is as strong as death" (Song of Songs 8:6); it does not end, but endures forever.
Mourning into Healing
This year of mourning has, thankfully, transformed into healing. While at first I felt more alone than ever with the passing of my father, I now feel him with me constantly, sending me love and encouragement. While at first, I was overwhelmed by stepping into my father's shoes, I have since felt his presence guide me and cheer me on.
I see him everywhere – in the smile of the elderly when I bring them a meal, in the grateful eyes of the needy when I hand them a food box, and in the joy of new olim (immigrants to Israel) when I meet them on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport. I see him in the faces of my own children as they carry on our family values and traditions. My father's legacy extends beyond this life, and his impact on this world is forever.
Rejoicing in the Rabbi's Legacy
I miss my father dearly and wish he was here with me. I would do anything for one more hug and kiss. But as I remember him this week, one year after his passing, I will also celebrate his life and rejoice in his legacy. I thank God for giving me my father for 34 years, and I am grateful for his enormous love – a love that is stronger than death, that has never left me, and I now know, never will.
Thank you, Hashem, for giving me my Abba. May you love him as he has loved all of your children, and may his soul ascend even higher in everlasting life.
Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. As President, Eckstein oversees all ministry programs and serves as the organization’s international spokesperson. She can be heard on The Fellowship’s daily radio program airing on 1,500 stations worldwide. Before her present duties, Yael served as global executive vice president, senior vice president, and director of program development and ministry outreach. Based in Jerusalem, Yael is a published writer, leading international advocate for persecuted religious minorities, and a respected social services professional. As President of The Fellowship, she also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of America’s largest religious not-for-profit organizations.