I have been with the Young Israel movement since 1969, when man landed on the moon. It has been a fruitful and productive journey. It is a great privilege and honor to serve as first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.
I have closely watched the impact of the National Council of Young Israel on World Jewry from the outside and the inside. With numbers and unity, there is strength. Young Israel has been at the forefront of every major development affecting the lives of Jews in America and abroad.
Not a day goes by without a press release being generated that deals with the issues of the day. Even though it might not be apparent to those looking in, every synagogue is affected—as the umbrella organization, the National Council of Young Israel is constantly being asked its opinion not just by the media but from political powerhouses on both sides of the aisle.
Obviously, because U.S. President Donald Trump was such a good friend to Israel and the Jewish people, the relationship with his administration was close and comfortable. It is precisely why, at the last National Council of Young Israel dinner on March 31, 2019, which I co-chaired and that included nearly 1,000 people, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was the keynote speaker, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Turning Point’s Charlie Kirk and “Fox and Friends” show co-host Pete Hegseth were guest speakers. It was a star-studded event that was a tremendous Kiddush HaShem. It was a one-of-a-kind event. (Just for the record, a number of Democrats were invited, but could not make it.)
The National Council of Young Israel should be proud of its many success stories. No one, for example, fought harder than the National Council of Young Israel for the release of Jonathan Pollard. Finally, after 35 years, he is a free man. When he was released, the only organization that he mentioned in his thanks was the National Council of Young Israel. The Pollard story is a great accomplishment for the Young Israel Movement. Some had said it would never happen. They did not have faith in the power of Young Israel.
During this challenging and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the National Council of Young Israel has been at the forefront of handling the crisis. Through the able hands of Rabbi Binyamin Hammer, a biweekly halachic session was held for more than 200 rabbis, with Rabbi Mordechai Willig at the helm, tackling all of the complex Shailot and Tshuvot. The work was extraordinary. The halachic compendium produced was astounding and very relevant.
If anyone asks, “What has the National Council of Young Israel done for me lately?” I can assure you that without these sessions getting through these times would be nearly impossible.
Obviously, the National Council of Young Israel wants to do even more for its synagogues. Every board member is working as hard as he can. I personally have sat on many boards, the National Council’s is the most demanding of them all.
When the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked in Oct. 2018, it was the National Council of Young Israel who responded first. It is documented in the Boston Globe in its article entitled “The Pittsburgh massacre reflects a changing America.”
I now quote from the article: “After Shabbat ended on Saturday night, the National Council of Young Israel, an umbrella organization of about 135 Orthodox synagogues across North America, e-mailed a statement expressing ‘tremendous shock and extreme pain at the bloodbath in Pittsburgh.’ But the council’s message went beyond voicing communal grief. ‘This massacre is a stark reminder of the need for every synagogue to employ security measures to keep their congregants safe,’ it said. “With anti-Semitic incidents in the United States on the rise and an uptick in religion-based hate crimes, it is critical that steps be taken to harden our synagogues.”
The article had a profound effect and the National Council was right in the middle of it.
At the National Council dinner in March 2018, celebrating Israel’s 70th birthday, history was made again. The father (Stuart) of American soldier Taylor Force who had been murdered in Israel, spoke. His words were riveting. One week later, the Taylor Force Act was passed and brought the PLO terror method of “pay to slay” to a halt.
The National Council of Young Israel has spearheaded many of the accomplishments vis a vis Israel of the Trump administration.
One of President Trump’s and Ambassador David Friedman’s greatest achievements was the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. The National Council led the way from the start.
The man most responsible for the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which eventually led to the move in 2018, was Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona. He was a close friend of today’s NCYI president, Farley Weiss. I actually remember Farley bringing Sen. Kyl to two annual NCYI dinners in the 1990s. Farley’s Young Israel in Phoenix also honored Sen. Kyl in 2012 for his work on behalf of Israel and specifically the embassy move.
Young Israel can take significant credit for President Trump ultimately fulfilling the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Interestingly, then-Sen. Joe Biden signed onto this resolution in 1995.
Another Trump triumph that NCYI was very instrumental in bringing about was the State Department’s decision in October of this year to finally permit Americans born in Jerusalem to note “Israel” as their birthplace on their passports.
Young Israel had other victories outside of the Trump White House, including the firing of Dr. Marc Lamont Hill from CNN for denouncing Israel, endorsing PLO terror and advocating Palestinian Arabs to use violence against Israel. Young Israel said at the time, “In light of Dr. Hill’s malevolent anti-Semitic remarks, we call upon CNN … to fire him immediately.” They did.
When Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) issued anti-Semitic pro-BDS tweets after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would classify BDS as anti-Semitic, Young Israel was there condemning her tweets.
When the European Union Court decided to uphold a ban on ritual slaughter, Young Israel “slammed” the decision. Its opinion was carried heavily in the media.
On June 22, Young Israel issue the following statement on sovereignty: “We are deeply appreciative to President Trump for the extraordinary and historic steps that he has taken relative to Israel during his time in the White House. Whether it was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, asserting Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, declaring that the U.S. State Department does not deem Israeli ‘settlements’ in Judea and Samaria to be in violation of international law or halting aid to the Palestinian Authority due to its outrageous ‘pay to slay’ program, the Trump administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it stands with its ally, Israel. An acknowledgment by the administration of Israel’s sovereignty over the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria would be yet another monumental and bold act relative to Israel’s security and welfare and one which we would encourage and embrace.”
I have tried to give an idea of what the National Council of Young Israel has accomplished these past few years. I have only touched the surface. These are just a few of the highlights. The Young Israel Movement should stand tall and proud. The future is bright.
Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.
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