By Joseph Frager, MD
The National Council of Young Israel is now 107 years young. No organization in America has transformed American Jewish life more than the National Council of Young Israel. Irving Bunim (1901–1980), of blessed memory, was one of its early leaders and created the only Jewish group (Vaad Hatzalah) that rescued over 10,000 Jews from certain death during the Holocaust in conjunction with Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1891–1962), of blessed memory. They dealt with the evil Heinrich Himmler to negotiate for precious Jewish lives. Irving’s son Amos Bunim (1929–2011), of blessed memory, wrote a biography about his father entitled “A Fire in His Soul.” Had Irving Bunim had a little more help, tens of thousands more could have been saved.
Rabbi Schulem Rubin (1926–2001), of blessed memory, and Rabbi David Hill (his memoirs entitled “Serving the Jewish People: My Message to the Generations” is a must read) were politically active in their own spheres of influence. Both transformed American Jewry.
The establishment of the State of Israel and the Soviet Jewry movement were both tremendously helped by the National Council of Young Israel.
The rise of the Likud and its leader Menachem Begin were attributable to many members of the Young Israel movement, including people like Jack Friedler, of blessed memory.
In the past seven years, the movement fell on hard times. It became a sleeping giant. It came out of its slumber in 2017. Its accomplishments since have been extraordinary and immeasurable. It has regained its voice and its vision. Last year over 700 people attended its Gala Dinner. More are expected this year on March 31 in Manhattan. This is especially true because we are honoring Jewish Young Israel World War II veterans 80 years since the War began in 1939.
Anthony Scaramucci, who is one of the current administration’s closest confidantes despite his brief tenure as communications director, was featured last year. He has become one of the Jewish people’s and Israel’s best friends and supporters. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also spoke at last year’s event. He brought a strong message against antisemitism. Assemblyman David Weprin, whom I have known for over 30 years, will represent the Democratic Party. He is a member of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates.
One of the main highlights of last year’s event was the powerful speech by Stuart Force, the father of Taylor Force, who was murdered in Israel. As a result of his remarks, the Taylor Force Act, which had been held up, was finally passed. This prevents American taxpayer money from going to the PLO for their brutal policy of “pay to slay.”
In May 2018, the American embassy was finally moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ambassador David Friedman, who is a Young Israel member, helped make this dream a reality. Many Young Israel members were invited and attended this once-in-a-lifetime event. I had spoken to President George H. W. Bush in 1992 about moving the embassy. The president of Young Israel, Farley Weiss, brought the sponsor of the Jerusalem Embassy Bill, Senator Jon Kyl, to two Young Israel dinners through the years. David Schimel, an NCYI board member, was very instrumental in drafting this legislation. The National Council of Young Israel can be proud of its hands-on involvement in the embassy move. It will go down in history as one of President Trump’s greatest achievements.
The National Council can take pride in its support of the president against the Iran deal, closure of the PLO Mission in D.C., and the fight against BDS and antisemitism. The president has been most appreciative of the National Council on these vital issues. A leading poll showed that 80 percent of Orthodox Jews support the president. The Young Israel movement makes up a large percentage of this group.
When 22 rabbis publicly criticized the National Council over the right of Prime Minister Netanyahu to unify the Right so 200,000 votes would not be wasted (3.5 percent of the population is required for a Knesset seat), and the unification of the Right in general, the PM’s family called to find out what was going on.
As antisemitism in America continues to grow, it will be the National Council of Young Israel fighting as hard as anyone. Farley Weiss discussed the Ilhan Omar situation brilliantly on Fox Business on March 19. The National Council of Young Israel will continue to seek support from both sides of the aisle to fight this scourge of antisemitism. We will work with our branches and our rabbis to fight this massive problem as well.
The good news is that the National Council of Young Israel is strong, vibrant, engaging, and, above all, resurgent.
Dr. Joseph Frager is one of Israel’s leading advocates in the United States. He focuses his efforts on lobbying local politicians and Capitol Hill on behalf of Israel and has been a guest on several nationally syndicated talk shows.