Yael Eckstein, President of IFCJ Reviews the Importance of Avoiding Gossip
Yael Eckstein, IFCJ President and CEO, oversees all ministry programs and serves as the international spokesperson for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Prior to her present duties, Yael served as Global Executive Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Director of Program Development and Ministry Outreach. Based in Israel with her husband and their four children, Yael is a published writer and a respected social services professional.
Yael Eckstein has contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and other publications, and is the author of three books: Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children, Holy Land Reflections: A Collection of Inspirational Insights from Israel, and Spiritual Cooking with Yael. In addition, her insights into life in Israel, the Jewish faith, and Jewish-Christian relations can be heard on The Fellowship’s radio program, Holy Land Moments, which air five times per week on over 1,500 radio stations around the world.
Yael Eckstein has partnered with other global organizations, appeared on national television, and visited with the U.S. and world leaders on issues of shared concern. She has been a featured guest on CBN’s The 700 Club with Gordon Robertson, and she served on a Religious Liberty Panel on Capitol Hill in May 2015 in Washington, D.C., discussing religious persecution in the Middle East. Her influence as one of the young leaders in Israel has been recognized with her inclusion in The Jerusalem Post’s 50 Most Influential Jews of 2020 and The Algemeiner’s Jewish 100 of 2019, and she was featured as the cover story of Nashim (Women) magazine in May 2015.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, outside of Chicago, and well-educated at both American and Israeli institutions – including biblical studies at Torat Chesed Seminary in Israel, Jewish and sociology studies at Queens College in New York, and additional study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – Yael Eckstein has also been a Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher in the United States.
Yael Eckstein President and CEO of IFCJ reviews the amazing power of speech and the importance of avoiding gossip.
Is this a difficult topic for people to grasp?
There’s a difference between knowing something and internalizing that knowledge. We can know that certain foods and behaviors are bad for us, but if that knowledge doesn’t affect our lifestyle, we don’t really get it. If we really understood how diet and exercise impact our health, we would do whatever we could to live a healthy lifestyle. The same is true when it comes to how we speak. If we truly understood the power of our words, it would affect the way that we speak. We would be just as careful about what comes out of our mouths as we are about what we put in them. If you wouldn’t drink gasoline, why would you ever gossip? If you wouldn’t eat dirt, why would you speak vulgar language? If you wouldn’t ingest anything toxic, why would you speak words that are misleading, negative, or hurtful?
Just as God created the world with speech, we continue to shape our lives with the words that we speak. The secret to a good life is to speak only good words. And really it’s that simple.
How is guarding your speech something that you practice on a daily or weekly basis?
In our house, we make a conscious decision to make our family meals, especially the Sabbath meals, a gossip-free zone. The Sabbath is a holy day, but it’s also a time when families and friends, and communities get together. And with that comes the risk of gossip. We like to host a lot of guests at our Sabbath meals, but we are careful to avoid negative speech.
Growing up, I saw how easily an innocent question, like what did you think of the rabbi sermon, could turn into talking badly about the rabbi or other community leaders. Or how two friends catching up on the past week could turn into catching up on the latest gossip. So me and my husband, Amichai, decided to be extra careful with how we speak at our Shabbat table. Our kids know the rules, and we’ve learned to gently steer our conversations with our guests in a positive direction if they start to run towards gossip.
And do you know what happens when gossip is off-limits? We talk about much better things. Instead of talking about people, we take a genuine interest in the people we are with. We ask our kids how their week was, and we get to know our guests better. We discuss the Parsha and the weekly Torah portion, and we share interesting ideas that we learned during the week. We also use our words to thank God for our meal and to sing soulful songs. We only speak good words. And it’s no wonder that our Shabbat meals leave us feeling uplifted and inspired. It’s like an infusion of life, which brings us back to Psalm 34. If we want life, if we love life, if we want to see good days, we have to guard our tongue. When we speak good words, words that build people up, words that encourage and inspire, and words of truth and holiness, we breathe life into our world, into our lives, and into the people around us.
Do you say any prayers on the subject of speaking positively?
This prayer is an abbreviated version of a prayer originally composed by the Chofetz Chaim, and it is said on a daily basis by many Jews today. Here are the words:
“Master of the universe, may it be your will, compassionate and gracious God, that you grant me the merit today and every day to guard my tongue against evil speech and gossip. May I be careful not to speak badly about anyone. And even more so, may I be careful not to speak against or complain about your ways, God. May I be careful not to speak words of falsehood, flattery, strife, anger, arrogance, hurt, embarrassment, mockery, and all other forbidden forms of speech. May I speak only words that are necessary, helpful, and true. And may all my deeds and all my words be for the sake of heaven. Amen.”
How can we get in the habit of guarding our tongues?
In Proverbs 18:21 we read, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” This week let’s try to speak only words that give life. Can you be more aware of what you say for just this week or just one day or even just one hour? Can you hold yourself back from speaking hurtful words? Can you use the power of your speech to inspire others and lift them up? Can you try not to talk bad about other people at all? It takes practice. It takes training our tongue, but when we realize how much we have to lose by speaking hurtful words and how much we have to gain by speaking only good ones, we’re more likely to change the way we speak for the better. And when we do, our lives will be better too.