As most American-born Jews, Young Israel aspired to academic success and social acceptance when he was born in 1912.
They placed little emphasis on Jewish education, so it was often difficult for them to provide quality educational opportunities. Torah-true Judaism was saved in North America through Young Israel’s bulwark against this trend.
Generational Divide Widens
Reconnecting American Youth with Synagogues
A Yiddish-speaking atmosphere permeated Orthodox synagogues at the beginning of the 20th century. It is often the case that young Jewish people raised in American synagogues are excluded completely from their synagogues. Keeping synagogues off limits to Jewish youth at that time is not surprising, as they attended them only when it was expected by family.
There was a large chasm between young Jews’ hearts and minds and their Jewish beliefs and practices, and the gap was widening rapidly despite the low rate of intermarriage. The 15 visionary young men and women who founded Young Israel did so against this backdrop.
Young Israel Council
As “The Council of Young Israel,” its first activities were English-language Friday night lectures covering a range of Jewish issues, which were controversial at the time.
After three years, an English-speaking, American-raised “Model Synagogue” was built.
A prohibition on auctioning synagogue honors enables people of all means to participate fully in synagogue services.
Organizations of Young Israel Synagogues
Young Israel Synagogue Organizations were formed in response to the success of this newly styled shul.
There were halachic requirements for each synagogue, including closing its parking facilities on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and mandating that all of its officers be Shomer Shabbat.
Several North American synagogues trended in the opposite direction at the time, making these measures noteworthy. Jewish life in the United States was determined not to fade into obscurity thanks to the intrepid young men and women who founded Young Israel.
Supporting Jewish Causes as a Leader
It was not just a conglomeration of synagogues that the National Council of Young Israel sought to represent.
A first of its kind for secular colleges, YI opened over 20 kosher dining halls and intercollegiate programs on campus. In an era when most employees worked six days a week, Sunday was called the “Day of Rest,” NCYI created a Sabbath Observation Employment Bureau. It was packed with much-needed weapons for the Haganah and Irgun defense forces of the not-yet-born State of Israel at Young Israel headquarters in New York. In support of our oppressed Jewish brothers and sisters, Young Israel led the Free Soviet Jewry Movement.
As a Zionistic, patriotic organization, Young Israel has always fought vigorously to give Jews the right to live throughout the State of Israel. In advocating for Jonathan Pollard’s commutation, Young Israel gained wide acceptance, and continues to fight for his repatriation to Israel.
Today’s Young Israel
A professional advisory service to 135 synagogues (and beyond) and cost-saving initiatives are provided by the National Council for Young Israel. Members are represented, questions and answers are provided biweekly, communities are assisted with rabbinic searches, informative conference calls are coordinated for gabbaim, and aspiring rabbis are trained.
NCYI offers a summer camp program titled Achva to synagogue youth groups, as well as a recreation basketball league with three divisions in the New York metro area for synagogue youth groups. The senior center at Young Israel synagogues serves as a place for feeding and educating the generation that has made Young Israel great.
Moreover, NCYI organizes regional conferences for Young Israel synagogues, participates in an anti-BDS initiative to help Jewish and pro-Israel students on college campuses who have to deal with constant criticism of Israel, and provides critical security information to our branch synagogues so that they may enhance safety measures.
The Second Century of Young Israel
Having now reached the second century of our history, Young Israel is once again renewing its dedication to our Preamble promise:
- Developing and maintaining a program of spiritual, cultural, social, and communal activities in order to advance and perpetuate traditional Torah-true Judaism;
- Teaching American Jewish youth the high spiritual and ethical values of Judaism and demonstrating that Israel’s ancient faith and good American values are compatible.
The Future of Young Israel
The Torah community will remain vocal on public policies that affect it, and we won’t shy away from taking stands on current events.
Throughout this presentation, Young Israel will demonstrate how Torah-based ethics are intrinsically compatible with Americanism, and how they have been historically integral to it. To accomplish these goals, the National Council of Young Israel will work with like-minded organizations and consolidate its position as the foremost organization serving Torah-true Judaism.