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 both from the outside and from the inside. With numbers and unity there is strength. The Young Israel has been at the forefront of every major development affecting the lives of Jews in America and abroad. There is not a day that goes by that a press release isn’t generated dealing with the issues of the day. Even though it might not be apparent to those looking in, every synagogue is affected. As an 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 President Trump was such a good friend of 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, which brought out nearly 1,000 people, which I co-chaired on March 31, 2019, Leader Kevin McCarthy came as the keynote speaker, Governor Mike Huckabee, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Turning Point’s Charlie Kirk, and Fox and Friends’ Pete Hegseth came as guest speakers. It was a star-studded event and 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, Jonathan Pollard is a free man. When Jonathan Pollard was released, the only organization that Jonathan Pollard 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 over 200 rabbis, with Rabbi Mordechai Willig at the helm, tackling all of the complex sh’eilos and t’shuvos. The work was extraordinary. The halachic compendium that was produced was astounding and very relevant.
If anyone asks what the National Council of Young Israel has 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. All of the Board members are working as hard as they 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 October of 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, emailed 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 of 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-à-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 Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. He was a close friend of today’s NCYI President, Farley Weiss. I actually remember Farley bringing Senator Kyl to two annual NCYI Dinners in the 1990s. Farley’s Young Israel in Phoenix also honored Senator 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 Senator Joe Biden signed onto this resolution in 1995.
Another Trump triumph, which 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 both CNN and Temple University for denouncing Israel, endorsing PLO terror, and advocating Palestinian Arabs to use violence against Israel. The Young Israel said at the time, “In light of Dr. Hill’s malevolent anti-Semitic remarks, we call upon CNN and Temple University to fire him immediately.” They did.
When Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib issued anti-Semitic pro-BDS tweets after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would classify the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic, the Young Israel was there condemning her tweets.
When the European Union Court decided to uphold a ban on ritual slaughter, the Young Israel “slammed” the decision. Its opinion was carried heavily in the media.
On June 22, the Young Israel sent out 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 US Embassy to Jerusalem, asserting Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, declaring that the US 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 acknowledgement 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 that we would encourage and embrace.”
I have tried in this article 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.
Joseph M. Frager is a physician and lifelong activist.