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.
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.
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.
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
of the high ethical
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.