Young Israel: Past, Present and Future

 

"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)

 

Young Israel was born in 1912, when the primary aspirations of most American-born Jews were 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 permeated by an Eastern European atmosphere. American-raised Jewish youth who wandered into these synagogues typically found themselves shut out completely. It is not surprising that the Jewish youth of that era generally avoided the synagogue, attending only when expected by family custom. Although intermarriage was relatively rare, the distance between young Jewish hearts and minds and Jewish belief and practice was almost huge. It was in this environment that Young Israel was founded by a group of 15 visionary young men and women.

Its first activities were Friday night lectures in English (which was very controversial) 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, including participatory singing and youth programs. To enable people of all means to fully participate in synagogue services, Young Israel prohibited the auctioning of synagogue honors. The National Council of Young Israel required the minimum halachic standards of a mechitza, closed parking facilities on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and that each of its synagogues officers be Shomer Shabbat. Young Israel synagogues popped up across North America.

Young Israel envisioned itself as much more than a conglomeration of synagogues. Young Israel was the first on secular college campuses, with over 20 kosher dining halls and intercollegiate programs. Young Israel created an Employment Bureau for Sabbath Observers, in an era when most employees were expected to work 6 days a week. At Young Israel’s headquarters in New York, arms were packed for the Haganah defense forces of the not-yet-born State of Israel. The Free Soviet Jewry Movement was championed by the leadership of Young Israel. Young Israel has always been fiercely Zionistic, and promoted the rights of Jews to live throughout the Land of Israel. Young Israel placed an important role in gaining broad acceptance for advocating for the commuting of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence.

Today the National Council of Young Israel provides professional advice and cost-saving initiatives to 135 Young Israel synagogues (and beyond), advocates for the interests and views of our 25,000 member families, trains aspiring rabbis, supports rabbis in the field with biweekly question and answer sessions, aides communities in rabbinic searches and relations, coordinates informative Gabbai2Gabbai conference calls, provides exciting Parsha Nation curriculum for synagogue youth groups, runs inspiring Achva Summer Teen Experiences, shares best practices through monthly e-publications Shul Solutions and The Practical Pulpit, runs a three division basketball league in the New York metropolitan area, and serves as the sponsor of four senior centers at Young Israel synagogues which feed, educate and recreate the generation that made Young Israel great.

Future plans include providing spiritual inspiration and connection for Young Professionals and training Ashkenazic rabbis how to serve their Sephardic congregants. We are committed to work to maximize the resources of the Jewish community by working with our colleagues at other Jewish organizations and Jewish institutes of higher education and to maintaining a standard of excellence in everything we do.

Mon, 24 July 2017 1 Av 5777