Inside critics win key amendment to Young Israel constitution

Young Israel-affiliated synagogues can now resign from the umbrella organization of Orthodox synagogues without fear of their assets being seized, thanks to an amendment to the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) constitution adopted by its members on Jan. 29.

The amendment approved overwhelmingly by delegates from Young Israel-affiliated synagogues nationwide during a meeting on Tuesday evening, marks the end of a two-and-a-half year struggle between the former leadership of NCYI and a group of more than 35 member synagogues seeking to reform the organization and make it more transparent.

The Young Israel Future Coalition, which included a handful of Los Angeles-area synagogues, formed in 2010 in the wake of a conflict between the NCYI and a member synagogue in Syracuse, N.Y. When that synagogue tried to resign its membership, it was informed that the umbrella organization intended to claim its assets, a power granted to the 100-year-old NCYI in its constitution.

In Dec. 2010, the coalition submitted a petition to remove the so-called seizure clause from the NCYI constitution. The petition was denied, but one year later NCYI President Shlomo Mostofsky resigned and long-serving NCYI Executive Director Rabbi Pesach Lerner took a six-month leave of absence. Lerner is now affiliated with NCYI only in an advisory role.

In 2012, a new board was elected, and NCYI Associate Director Rabbi Bini Maryles took over as the professional leader of the 140-synagogue umbrella group.

Evan Anziska, a member of Young Israel of Century City (YICC) who was one of the leaders of the Young Israel Future Coalition, hailed the approved amendment as a victory.

“We’re very pleased with the amendment that was approved,” Anziska said. “We think that it addresses the core issues that we were concerned about.”

The original clause was initially drawn up to prevent Young Israel synagogues from becoming Conservative synagogues; while such transformations did take place in the mid-20th century, the NCYI leadership is less concerned about that possibility today.

As amended, the NCYI constitution now gives viable synagogues the right to resign their membership in the umbrella organization without having their assets seized. At the same time, the amendment ensures that no individual or entity can take over a failing shul, or synagogue.

“This only deals with issues of a shul collapsing and preventing a ‘last man standing’ type of situation,” NCYI President Farley Weiss said.

Weiss said the newly approved amendment addressed the most pressing issue brought up by the coalition, and would allay the concerns of an unspecified number of synagogues considering joining Young Israel.

Anziska said it was “ironic” that none of the coalition member synagogues who had pushed for the right to resign are planning to exercise their new power.

“No one, to my mind, is actively looking to resign its affiliation with the organization, especially now that there’s new leadership and the rules have changed,” Anziska said. “People feel that it’s a more equitable system.”