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Young Israel

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Title: Young Israel  
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Subject: Mordecai Kaplan, Aryeh Kaplan, Young, Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Torah Umadda, Richard H. Schwartz, Yeshiva Derech HaTorah, Avigdor Miller, Arthur Cohen (politician), Making of a Godol
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Young Israel

The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) or Young Israel (in Hebrew: Yisrael Hatza'ir, ישראל הצעיר), is a synagogue-based Orthodox Judaism organization in the United States with a network of affiliated "Young Israel" synagogues. Young Israel was founded in 1912, in its earliest form, by a group of 15 young Jews on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Their goal was to make Orthodox judaism more relevant to young Americanized Jews, at a time when a significant Jewish education was rare, and most Orthodox institutions were Yiddish-speaking, and oriented to an older, European Jewish demographic.[1]

Today, Young Israel continues to promote Orthodox involvement of modern American Jews, while also advocating for the issues most relevant to its members, including support for Israel and Religious Zionism, and Jewish prisoner support.


Early in the 20th century, American Jews were striving primarily for social and economic advancement, often leaving their religious observances behind. Because most jobs required working on Saturdays, observance of the Jewish Sabbath was rare, as were many other traditions.[2] At the same time, the Reform movement had been expanding rapidly for about 40 years, and with its relaxed religious codes, secularly-educated leadership, and English orientation, attracted an increasing number of young people away from the folds of Orthodoxy.[1]

A group of young Orthodox Jews decided to do what they could to make Orthodox Judaism more relevant to their peers, and combat the wave of assimilation by Jews into Reform and secular American society. It developed informally with two programs, one for education and one for worship.


The group developed a Friday night (Sabbath) lecture series in 1912, given in English. This was a major innovation in the Orthodox world. They were initially advised by rabbis Israel Friedlander and Mordecai Kaplan on topics and speakers.[3] However, this was the time period when the Conservative Judaism movement was just starting to break away from Orthodoxy, and Friedlander and Kaplan were early students and faculty of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary. The JTS rabbis sought to use Young Israel to establish a youth platform for the Conservative movement, and until the end of World War I, the organization had two groups, the firmly Orthodox, and the more liberal group that worked with the Conservative rabbis.[1]


The first Young Israel synagogue was established in 1913 on East Broadway, on Manhattan's Lower East Side. David Warshaw traces the origins of the new synagogue to the summer of 1913, when some members of the YI seminar group were asked into a storefront shul at 205 East Broadway, to complete a minyan. Much to their delight, the shul allowed the new young members to lead services at least once each month.[4] As they led the services, the Young Israel members introduced some small stylistic changes, that were acceptable to the Orthodox wing and would make the service more pleasant for the Young Israel audience. The changes included singing many parts of the prayer service, and the distribution of worship honors equally, where they had traditionally gone to established, wealthy congregants who could pay for them.

Though the shul predated its Young Israel members, within months, they had attracted so many new young members, that they outgrew the store and moved to the Educational Alliance building. The young people had taken over the shul, itself a novel experience. However, it was not directly linked to the Young Israel lecture series, only sharing a common group of leaders, and the common idea of refreshing Orthodoxy for younger Jews. Recognizing its potential for young Jews everywhere, they named themselves "The Model Synagogue Organization." However, they recognized the synergy with the forums, and renamed the shul Young Israel.[1]

The first name of the shul was prescient. Young Jews in other neighborhoods were soon starting their own Young Israel shuls. However, each was independent, with only informal connections to the original group.[1]

Centralization and Orthodoxy

By the end of World War I, the two Lower East Side groups shared a name, but little else. The Conservative group promoted the seminars, and the Orthodox group was focused on prayer. They reached a truce in 1918 and agreed to join forces in more than just name, and created a single Young Israel organization, led by Irving Bunim, who would be president of NCYI for many years.[1]

By 1920, Bunim and his Orthodox cohort grew nervous about the Conservative wing and their increasing theological changes. They did not like the changes in and of themselves, and the changes themselves, and also prevented recognition of Young Israel by Orthodox rabbis, which would likely cause Young Israel to become a de facto branch of the Conservative movement. The merger created two years before had also caused the Conservatives to start trying to make changes in the Synagogue arm, which had been exclusively Orthodox. He sought the help of Rabbi Bernard Revel, and was able to convince the entire Young Israel to follow Revel's advice. Between Revel, and extensive networking by Bunim with other potential Young Israel leaders in the Orthodox community, the Conservative rabbis were shut, particularly Kaplan, were shut out of the entire organization, and the movement became firmly Orthodox.[1]

To bolster this success, in 1922 the Orthodox leaders added some basic Orthodox-oriented requirements to the Young Israel charter, such as synagogue requirements for regularly-held services, Torah study, separation of men and women. In 1924, the central group organized a convention for all the other groups that had emulated them (by setting up their own original Young Israel lectures and shuls). The other neighborhood groups agreed to abide by the charter. By 1926, the organization was incorporated, and owned the trademarked name, Young Israel. Any new shuls wishing to use the name would have to get agreement from the central organization, which required subscription to the charter. This prevented any Young Israel shul from moving toward Conservative practice.[1]


By 1925, Young Israel was extending into social services, and formed a support agency for Sabbath-observant employment. It included job placement and vocational training.[1]

Later in the decade, the synagogue network grew to about 25. The central organization developed a Wall Street office with a full time staff. The office began publishing material regularly for branches and Young Israel members. A few years later, branches starting opening outside of New York. By 1935, there were branches in New York, New England, Chicago and elsewhere in the midwest, Canada, and Palestine .[1]


In June 2013, Rabbi Perry Tirschwell was appointed National Director.

NCYI serves as the national coordinating agency for nearly 150 Orthodox congregations of nearly 25,000 member families throughout the United States and Canada. NCYI also serves as a resource to its sister organization in Israel, entitled Yisrael Hatzair - "The Young Israel Movement in Israel", encompassing over 50 synagogues in Israel.[2] It is a grass roots organization administrated on the congregational model, taking its direction from local and national lay leadership as well as rabbis and professional staff. Its socio-cultural outlook is strongly influenced by the Religious Zionist Movement, with strong support of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people. Congregations belonging to NCYI are generally named "Young Israel of...", followed by the name of the city or neighborhood.[5]

NCYI is a not-for-profit service organization, as defined by their 501(c)(3) status. The main headquarters is located in Manhattan, with regional offices in Florida, California, New Jersey and Jerusalem.

Recent positions

Orthodox Judaism has no allowance for homosexual practice, though it does not necessarily condemn individuals for this sin. In response to President Barack Obama's endorsement of same sex marriage on May 9, 2012, the NCYI issued a statement expressing disappointment in leaders that support same sex marriage and called the concept of same sex marriage "antithetical to the religious principles that we live by".[6] Other Orthodox institutions have made similar statements. ran a petition expressesing disappointment in NCYI and the Orthodox Union over this, and received over 1000 signatures in 24 hours.[7]

In recent decades, the Orthodox world has seen an increase in women's involvement in synagogue services, except for Haredi institutions. The practice has spread to several Young Israel branches. It is controversial in the Orthodox world, and most rabbis do not allow it. On advice of its rabbinical board, to help stanch the trend, NCYI created a requirement that no women or converts to Judaism could serve as President of any of its synagogues.[8] This has alienated some Young Israel. According to the Jewish Star,[9] the rabbi of a synagogue with a female president was threatened by NCYI's leadership.

NCYI headquarters through 2006 was at 3 West 16th Street, an expensive piece of real state that it owned. Young Israel of Fifth Avenue leased its synagogue in the same building from NCYI. When NCYI sought to sell the building in 2002, the synagogue sued for breach of their long standing arrangement, as the sale would require their eviction. The synagogue claimed that they were co-owners of the building. Eventually, a deal was made involving two other parties, the building sold, and NCYI moved its small staff to leased office space in lower Manhattan. However, the other two parties eventually had a falling, leading to the synagogue's eviction.[10][11]

The organization had been subject to an investigation by then New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's Charities Bureau. According to The Forward: "New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, renowned for his jousts with the titans of corporate America, recently saw his own office tied in knots and thrown into turmoil during a three-year investigation into a small Orthodox synagogue organization."

Young Israel Council of Rabbis

The Young Israel Council of Rabbis is the rabbinic arm of the organization.


The main divisions are Synagogue Services, Rabbinical Services, and a Benevolent Association (burial society). There are also women's, youth, seniors, and singles departments.

Two additional components of the organization are the Women's League and the InterCollegiate Council (ICC).

Well-known branches

Young Israel of Brookline

Young Israel of Brookline is located in Brookline, Massachusetts. The Boston Globe described it as, “an influential synagogue described as modern or centrist Orthodox.”.[12] It is known for the high level of Jewish scholarship among both the men and women of the congregation.[13][14]

The congregation is particularly noted for the architecture of its building.[15] In 1994 the synagogue building suffered a severe fire,[16] caused by a deteriorated electrical panel [17] In 1996, the Young Israel dedicated a new building designed by Graham Gund.[18] The building has a wrought-iron menorah sculpted by David Tonnesen. Instead of stained glass, the building uses art glass that has the effect of scattering rainbows over the congregation.[19] Notable members include Aaron Feuerstein [20] and Jeff Jacoby. Rabbi Saul Berman is a former rabbi of the Young Israel. The current rabbi is Rabbi Dr. Gershon C. Gewirtz.

Young Israel of Cherry Hill

Young Israel of Cherry Hill is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue located in Cherry Hill, NJ, USA. It was established in April 1996 by approximately 14 Jewish families residing in Cherry Hill. During its first year of existence services were held in the homes of a number of its founding members. In its second year of existence a permanent building was purchased at 817 Cooper Landing Road, Cherry Hill, NJ. Rabbi Y. Teichman was appointed as the first rabbi of the synagogue. Rabbi Mordechai Rhine was the rabbi from approx. 2003 until August 2013.

Young Israel of Fifth Avenue

In 1945, when NCYI bought its headquarters building on West 16th Street, it also fostered the development of new branch synagogue on site, The Young Israel of Fifth Avenue. This became a pointof contention over fifty years later, when NCYI sold the building. Eventually, due to this rift, the synagogue disaffiliated with Young Israel, and is now known as the Sixteenth Street Synagogue. As of 2013, it doe snot have its own quarters, and other area synagogues host prayer services that 16th Street members attend.

Young Israel of Flatbush

This was one of the earliest branches, and the affiliate that then-president Irving Bunim chose as the leader, in the 1930s, for instituting rabbinic leadership of Young Israel synagogues. At the time, it was one of the larger shus, and was initially against getting a rabbi. By winning over such a prominent dissenter, Bunim succeeded in setting a trend for all branches.


  1. Daniel Judah Elazar (1995). Community and Polity: The Organizational Dynamics of American Jewry. Jewish Publication Society. p. 133.
  2. Daniel Judah Elazar, Rela M. Geffen (2000). The Conservative Movement in Judaism: Dilemmas and Opportunities. State University of New York Press. p. 24.
  3. Bernard Melvin Lazerwitz (1998). Jewish Choices: American Jewish Denominationalism. State University of New York Press. p. 19.
  4. Benny Kraut, "Jewish Survival in Protestant American", in Jonathan D. Sarna (ed.) (1998). Minority Faiths and the American Protestant Mainstream. University of Illinois Press. p. 33.
  5. Jeanette Freidman, "Young Israel", in Fred Skolnik, Michael Berenbaum (eds.) (2007), Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 21, Macmillan Reference USA in association with the Keter Publishing House. p. 402.


  • Kraut, Benny "A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Community: Mordecai M. Kaplan, Orthodoxy, and American Judaism" American Jewish History - Volume 86, Number 3, September 1998, pp. 357–363

External links

  • National Council of Young Israel, NYC
  • Young Israel of Aberdeen, NJ
  • Young Israel of Pelham Parkway Jewish Center
  • Young Israel of East Brunswick, NJ
  • Young Israel of Brookline, Massachusetts
  • Young Israel of Cherry Hill, NJ
  • Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Young Israel of West Hempstead
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