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Today is Thursday, April 24, 2014

"The aims and purposes of the organization shall be to foster and maintain a program of spiritual, cultural, social and communal activity towards the advancement and perpetuation of traditional Torah-true Judaism; and to instill into American Jewish youth an understanding and appreciation of the high ethical and spiritual values of Judaism and demonstrate the compatibility of the ancient faith of Israel with good Americanism.

The organization shall promote cooperation among the constituent branches now existing and which may hereafter be formed, establish a close bond of kinship to the end that their individual and common problems may more easily be solved, and act as the federated and central body for the Young Israel Movement so that its influence as a force in Jewry may be felt and recognized in America and the world over." (From the Preamble of the National Council of Young Israel Constitution)

To appreciate the role of the Young Israel movement in North America, one must understand the circumstances which led to its creation in 1912 and the forces and events which have influenced its subsequent development. For today's religious Jews, the conditions under which North American Jewry lived during the early decades of this century are almost unimaginable. Because practically all jobs required work on Saturday, Shabbos observance was rare and typically required extraordinary sacrifice.

The primary aspirations which most Jewish parents held for their children were for economic success and acceptance in American Society, Jewish education was very low on their list of priorities, and as a result, was usually rudimentary, at best. Orthodox synagogues were exclusively Yiddish-speaking and dominated by an Eastern European atmosphere. American-raised Jewish youth who wandered into these synagogues typically found themselves shut out completely. Thus it was not surprising that many Jewish youth of the era generally avoided the synagogue, attending only when required by family custom. Although intermarriage was relatively rare, the loss of young Jewish hearts and minds to Jewish belief and practice as we understand it today was almost universal in that era. It was in this environment that Young Israel was founded by a group of 15 visionary young men and woman.

Its first activities were Friday night lectures, in English, on a variety of topics of Jewish interest. Three years later, the group formed a "Model Synagogue" with innovations designed to attract American raised, English speaking Jewish youth. To broaden the appeal of synagogue services to even the poorest in the community, Young Israel discouraged the acceptance of payment in return for any synagogue honor. Yong Israel envisioned itself as much more than just a place for prayer services. It became and continues to serve as the base and center for a diversified movement, providing programs and services addressing a broad range of social, educational and recreational needs as well as traditional Jewish observance.

Standing at the beginning of the 21st century, the Young Israel movement remains loyal to the ideas and ideals of its visionary founders. The National Council of Young Israel is the only Orthodox synagogue movement that requires the minimum halachic standards of a mechitza, closed parking facilities on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and that the shul's officers be Shomer Shabbos. Thus, through its 146 branches across North America - from New England to California, from Canada to Texas, and over 50 branches throughout Israel through Yisrael Hatzair, the Young Israel movement in Israel, a Young Israel synagogue represents the definition of Orthodoxy which we share in common.

Today, the National Council of Young Israel is in the forefront of meeting the needs and representing the views of its over 25,000 member households, through its Synagogue Services, Rabbinic Placement and Training, Communal Affairs, Youth and Young Adults Department, Women's League, Summer Youth Programs (ACHVA), Israel Advocacy training, and so much more.

Meeting the challenge of enhancing Torah observance and community needs continues to dominate the ongoing agenda of the National Council of Young Israel.