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Serving its Branches, Building Communities
Our Story2022-12-08T09:29:00-05:00

Our Founding Roots

Young Israel was born in 1912, at a time 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 consequently, quality educational options were often lacking. Young Israel became the bulwark against this trend, and emerged as the linchpin in saving Torah-true Judaism in North America.

The Widening Generational Chasm

“Bringing American Youth back the Synagogue”

At the beginning of the 20th century, the principal language spoken in Orthodox synagogues was Yiddish and an Eastern European atmosphere permeated the air. 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 synagogues, attending only when expected by family custom.

Although intermarriage was relatively rare, the chasm between young Jewish hearts and minds and Jewish belief and practice was substantial and the gulf was widening rapidly. It was against this backdrop that Young Israel was founded by a group of 15 visionary young men and women.

Irving Bunim, early Young Israel leader

The Council of Young Israel

Calling itself “The Council of Young Israel,” its first activities were Friday night lectures in English, which at the time was very controversial, centered around 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.

In order to enable people of all means to fully participate in synagogue services, Young Israel prohibited the auctioning of synagogue honors.

Young Israel Synagogue Organizations

As the successes of this newly styled shul grew, so did the need for new branches, now under the banner of a sister organization called the “Young Israel Synagogue Organizations.”

Each synagogue was required to adhere to the halachic standards of a mechitza, close its parking facilities on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and mandate that each of its synagogue officers be Shomer Shabbat.

These measures were noteworthy at the time, as many synagogues in North America were trending in the opposite direction. The intrepid young men and women who established Young Israel were determined to ensure that religious Jewish life in the United States did not fade into obscurity.

Young Israel of Brooklyn
Young Israel of Brooklyn

National Council
of Young Israel
is Formed

In 1926, “The Council of Young Israel” and “Young Israel Synagogue Organizations” were incorporated by an act of the New York State Legislature; changing its name to the “National Council of Young Israel” (NCYI) in 1945. One year later, NCYI was granted its tax exemption status (link to exemption), cementing itself in history as the premier synagogue and communal organization for Torah-true Judaism.

Leadership in Championing for Jewish Causes

The National Council of Young Israel Young Israel envisioned itself as much more than a conglomeration of synagogues.

Young Israel was the first organization to establish itself as a regular presence on secular college campuses, with over 20 kosher dining halls and intercollegiate programs. NCYI created the Employment Bureau for Sabbath Observers, in an era when most employees were expected to work 6 days a week, with Sunday being the “Day of Rest.” At Young Israel’s headquarters in New York, much-needed arms were packed for the Haganah & Irgun defense forces of the not-yet-born State of Israel. The Free Soviet Jewry Movement was championed by the Young Israel leadership, which advocated for the rights and release of our oppressed Jewish brethren.

Young Israel has always been fiercely Zionistic, while being just as ardently patriotic, and we constantly promote the rights of Jews to live throughout the State of Israel. Young Israel played a vital role in gaining broad acceptance for advocating for the commutation of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence, and now continues to fight for him to be able to return to his home in Israel.

Lag Ba'omer BBQ at Young Israel House at Yale
Lag Ba’omer BBQ at Young Israel House at Yale

Young Israel Today

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 bi-weekly question and answer sessions, aides communities with rabbinic searches and relations, and coordinates informative conference calls for gabbaim.

NCYI also provides its exciting Parsha Nation curriculum for synagogue youth groups, runs inspiring Achva summer camp programs, administers a three-division recreational basketball league in the New York metropolitan area, and serves as the sponsor of four senior centers at Young Israel synagogues which feed and educate the generation that made Young Israel great.

Further, NCYI organizes regional conferences for Young Israel synagogues, is involved in an anti-BDS initiative aimed at helping Jewish and other pro-Israel students on college campuses who are constantly faced with a barrage of criticism directed at Israel, and makes available to our branch synagogues critical security information in order to enhance safety measures at our shuls.

  • 115 Member Synagogues
  • 25,000 Member Families
  • Synagogues in 25 states
NCYI Mission to Chevron

and appreciation
of the high ethical
and spiritual
values of Judaism

Young Israel in its Second Century

With Young Israel now in its second century, we are once again rededicating ourselves to our promise written in our Preamble, 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.

Young Israel and the Future

We will continue to be vocal on public policies that affect the Torah community, and we will not shy away from taking positions on the important topics of the day.

Young Israel will demonstrate how Torah-based ethics are immensely compatible, and historically essential to Americanism. We will work with like-minded organizations to foster these ideals, and continue to solidify the National Council of Young Israel’s position as the premier organization for Torah-true Judaism.