Often a marked change in the focus of a well-established communal organization can take place gradually, over time, as leaders and organization members adopt a new approach. More rarely, a critical mass gathers quickly with a consensus on desired changes and change sweeps in quickly.
The later scenario was what unfolded at the National Council of Young Israel during its election of officers and board members on February 17. As reported on February 25 in The Jewish Link, an entire new slate of officers and board members was voted in, with the platform that NCYI downplay political advocacy and accentuate services to member synagogues.
The National Council of Young Israel was founded in 1912 and 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 the current era, 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, and aides communities with rabbinic searches and relations.”
As described by new president Rabbi David Warshaw, a past president of the Young Israel of Oceanside, the new national board of 17 members came together within the two months before the election and hashed out its shared vision for changes in NCYI over a series of Zoom calls. Prior to the election, delegates from 45 member synagogues committed to support the new slate’s vision for “Young Israel Future.” More than 300 delegates from Young Israel synagogues participated in the election.
The goals of the new NCYI administration are “to restore communication and cooperation between the National Council of Young Israel and individual synagogues, and to promote better connections between the branches (individual shuls) through the sharing of ideas.” The ultimate goal is to foster a greater sense of togetherness, transparency and unity among the branches and the national organization.
Other priorities include:
- The institution of term limits for officers and board members
- Allowing only one representative per shul to serve on the board, so as to foster greater representation
- Providing a greater gamut of services and programming for constituent branches
- Restoring the Council of Rabbis and creating regional meetings of presidents and rabbis
- Creating mechanisms for greater input from members of constituent synagogues into decisions of NCYI on political advocacy.
To operationalize these priorities, seven committees have begun to meet regularly: communications, fundraising, finance, legal, synagogue services, operations and advocacy.
Rabbi Warshaw is a third-generation Young Israel member who retired from a successful career in the non-profit Jewish communal field, with stints as executive director of the Young Israel of Flatbush and the Young Israel of West Hempstead, as well as leadership positions in other prominent Jewish organizations.
Rabbi Warshaw added that one of the aspects of the new administration’s approach that helped them build a groundswell of support was that they expressly stayed away from political matters. As he stated, “Politics never entered into it. We never had a conversation that touched on political stances or affiliations. And that probably made a big difference for our slate.”
A newly elected NCYI board member from New York echoed the commitment Rabbi Warshaw outlined. “The leadership change is an exciting and needed development that will enable NCYI to focus on its core purpose of service to Young Israel shuls,” said Mark Semer, a board member in the new administration of NCYI and a member of the board of directors at the Young Israel of New Rochelle. “In the coming weeks we will study the needs and interests of Young Israel synagogues and organize our own ideas with a goal of putting forth a strong offering in the not-too-distant future. We hope that our efforts will have real benefits for all the shuls and their members.”
By Harry Glazer