UPDATED-Young Israel No Longer Able To Seize Resigning Members' Assets

Delegates voted overwhelmingly to amend constitution after rebellion in 100-year-old organization.

01/30/13
Staff Writer
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(Adds comments from Young Israel officers and leaders of member synagogues, details about amendment process.)

Delegates representing 140 Young Israel congregations in the United States voted overwhelmingly Tuesday evening to amend the constitution of their parent body, stripping it of the right to seize the assets of any member congregation that seeks to resign, is expelled or dissolved.

A newly elected board of directors of the National Council of Young Israel  made the constitutional change its top priority upon assuming office in November, according to Bob Levi, the board chairman.

In an e-mail to congregations Jan. 24, Levi wrote that this had been a “lingering contentious issue” because the organization’s constitution did “not allow a shul that joins the organization to leave.  This provision was in effect to prevent Orthodox shuls from becoming Conservative shuls, which was a major concern at the time.  Clearly, this is not a significant concern today.  Today, this provision has hurt the organization’s reputation and its effort to attract more shuls to join.”

Farley Weiss of Phoenix, the organization’s new president, said in an interview that before the change “there was a perception of infighting [within the NCYI]; I think this decision will lay that perception to rest.”

The controversial section of the constitution was cited by former leaders of the National Council when they took the first steps in June 2010 towards expelling and seizing the assets of a member congregation in upstate New York, Shaarei Torah Orthodox Congregation of Syracuse. The National Council said it took the action because the congregation owed $20,000 in dues. But the synagogue’s president, Beverly Marmor, said the action was taken because her congregation had elected a woman president in 2008. Marmor said her congregation tried to resign from the National Council but was told the organization’s constitution prohibited it.

The issue sparked a rebellion in the 100-year-old organization, a motion of no-confidence in the NCYI leadership, threats by congregants to withhold money from synagogue fundraising drives, and a call by at least 35 Young Israel congregations requesting the president and board chairman of Young Israel to convene a meeting to repeal the controversial provision.

In December 2011, both the president and board chairman of the embattled organization resigned and Rabbi Pesach Lerner, its executive vice president for 20 years, was granted a six-month leave of absence. He subsequently requested and was given the title of emeritus and he no longer has any decision-making authority. Rabbi Bini Maryles, the National Council’s associate executive director and senior director of branch services, runs the organization.

Weiss said attorney David Schultz, a newly elected associate vice president from Los Angeles, crafted the constitutional amendment that the board adopted Dec. 18 after two lengthy meetings.

“This was our most important issue and we tackled it at the first meeting of the new board, half of whom were new,” he said.

“This was a contentious issue and we took everyone’s different concerns and came to a consensus, which was an extraordinary accomplishment for the National Council of Young Israel,” Weiss said.

Congregational delegates overwhelmingly approved it in a conference call Jan. 29. Weiss said the reason for the change was explained, questions were answered and “people thought it was a good idea.”

The new amendment allows a member congregation to resign after providing written notice, having paid all its dues and other monies owed, and agreeing to immediately cease using the “Young Israel” name.

In addition, if a member synagogue is no longer able to hold weekly Sabbath services or is in the process of dissolving, closing, merging, liquidating or disposing of its assets, it may not resign unless it complies with the above requirements and presents the National Council with a written plan for the disposition of its assets that must be approved by two-thirds of the National Council board.

Weiss said that although an attorney for the National Council had determined two years ago that delegate assembly meetings could no longer be held by conference call, the new board consulted a different lawyer who said meetings could continue to be legally held that way.

Weiss said the constitutional amendment is to take effect in three months barring objections from a majority of member congregations.

“We’re very optimistic that more shuls will join now because of our highly valued trademark, because we have a board that has decision-making capabilities and because everyone’s voice matters,” he added.

Although no member synagogue left during the turmoil over the constitution, Weiss said, “I think new shuls didn’t want to join so quickly. By our actions we have shown that we have an extraordinary board that can deal with contentious matters. People like an organization that works in such a professional manner.”

One of those calling who had been calling for changes at the National Council, Evan Anziska, a board member of the Young Israel of Century City in Los Angeles, welcomed the actions of the new slate of officers and directors.

“The new board is made up of a significant number of individuals who either supported the efforts of the coalition to amend the NCYI’s constitution, or voiced displeasure at how the previous administration handled its affairs,” he said.

“We demonstrated that an organization’s constituents can band together to effect meaningful change when issues of serious concern arise.”

Avi Goldberg, a former president of the Young Israel of Brookline, Mass., said the new leadership still “needs to deal with other issues, such as the need for an audit, but we are confident they will address them.”

Weiss, however, said the “issue of an audit is an old criticism that is no longer relevant. There is transparency in the organization and the board is aware of the finances. At the delegates’ meeting we went through the budget and at the board meeting we went over the finances of the organization. We will continue to always try to make sure we improve and maintain transparency.”

stewart@jewishweek.com
 

Last Update:

02/07/2013 - 19:44

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With all respect Mr. Farley Weiss, an audit is indeed still relevant due to the active roles and relationships between the principals of an NCYI affiliate known as National Voluntary Health Facilities II aka National Counsel Of Young Israel (yes, it is spelled C-o-u-n-s-e-l) EIN 260160581.

The following information is from http://www.corporationwiki.com/Arizona/Scottsdale/national-voluntary-health-facilities-ii-inc/30026079.aspx
National Voluntary Health Facilities II, Inc. has a location in Scottsdale, AZ. Active officers include Steve Mostofsky, Pesach Lerner and Farley Weiss. National Voluntary Health Facilities II, Inc. filed as a Foreign Nonprofit Corporation on Friday, December 12, 1997 in the state of Arizona and is currently active.

Filings: Foreign Nonprofit Corporation (TX - Active)
Source: Texas Secretary of State last refreshed 11/10/2012

The following is a message I sent to Bob Levi, NCYI Chairman of the Board

Dear Mr. Levi,

While it is true there is no concern that the Young Israel Aish of Las Vegas will remove its mechitza and become a member of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, it in many ways has become WORSE than any outright Conservative synagogue because it hides its kefirah behind the label of Young Israel.

The actions of the past leadership that empowered this blight on the Young Israel legacy. Unfortunately this apikorus is still using his status as a Young Israel rabbi to spread the doctrines of Conservative Judaism under the hechsher of YOUNG ISRAEL!
NCYI has not even taken steps to inform anyone that what Mr. sWyne said on the radio and the internet (as "rabbi" of YILV) is sheker v'chazav! (He said the Torah does NOT prohibit prostitution, he said that one SHOULD drive to shul on Shabbat, even though it is not permitted halachically, in order to be with a community instead of staying home to pray).

From what I read in the (NY) Jewish Week article, NCYI still has the power, authority and means to deal effectively with Mr. sWyne. I suggest you do so without any further delay.

Mr.Kaufgman's post is the first I have heard that the Ls Vegas branch violates Torah Law. Howso? It is important to YI members to know this so they can act accordingly. I am glad to see that the new board has acted in this manner. Years ago, in Detroit, Rabbi Prero, z'l, could see that the Orthodox community was on the move and that the YI of that time was going to move with it. But, how to get around National Council? By establishing a Metropolitan Council of YI of Detroit which took over the assets and then filtered them to the new YI branches that were being established. National Council never challenged this action. It made too much sense. So does the action of the New Board. May you go from strength to Strength.

I have provided documentation and links to proof how Young Israel of Las Vegas has trampled on the Torah legacy of the founders of Young Israel at http://cleanupyoungisrael.blogspot.com/

The National Council itself used unethical way to cover up the violations of both Torah and the YI Constitution.

I think in New York State, NCYI would have a difficult time enforcing any contractual provisions against a member congregation - the congregation could argue that the dispute is of a religious nature and therefore barred by the first amendment from beign heard by a New York court. I forget the name of the doctrine, but there were a few articles about this strange provision of New York law in the NYT in 2006. The argument has been successfully used by congregations to fire rabbis under contract without having to pay out the remainder of the contract.

After finally ridding the national organization of its internal egomaniacal malignancies, I predict continued internal nit-picking and strife will nit-pick itself out of relevance first and then out of existence. Let's try to remember why the organization was started and if that's no longer relevant, then let's turn out the lights and go home.

Although the danger of Young Israel synagogues turning C is minimal, the danger of their turning YCT or some similar denomination is real. I think that a strong NCYI is still necessary to curtail this new risk.

They may not seize assets of a shul seeking to resign but if I read this correctly they may (and should) seize the assets (and control) of a branch which violates Torah law, Halacha, and the Young Israel Constitution. This is power the previous administration distorted in the case of Syracuse but continues to ignore using in the case of the Las Vegas branch which openly violates the Torah and Young Israel bylaws.

how so? I looked at the website and didn't really see anything.

Rebecca, I wrote this comment before the update which now says "Delegates representing 140 Young Israel congregations in the United States voted overwhelmingly Tuesday evening to amend the constitution of their parent body, stripping it of the right to seize the assets of any member congregation that seeks to resign, [b]is expelled[/b] or dissolved."

However, I assume the National Council and supporting branches still have the means, power and authority to wrest control of a Young Israel branch from the spiritual misguidance of a man upon whom a seruv was placed upon after he mistreated a widow and he reneged on an agreement with Bais Din to drop trespassing charges on her, a man who publicly espouses the doctrine of Conservative Judaism regarding driving to shul on Shabbos, a man who publicly claims on the radio and internet that the Torah does NOT prohibit prostitution! Also, the Treasurer of the Young Israel of Las Vegas publicly drives there on Shabbos in direct violation of the Young Israel Constitution Section 3.3(d).

The previous administration of NCYI not only did not deal with these issues, they sought to cover them up through the use of fraud and FORGERY (as shown at http://cleanupyoungisrael.blogspot.com/2010/05/more-details-and-can-be-found-on.html ) Baruch Hashem most of the perpetrators of the fraud and forgery are no longer in the new NCYI administration. It is the new administration's task though to make certain that the justice of Torah is followed ASAP. Particularly since this week's Parsha, Mishpatim, contains the prohibition against mistreating a widow!

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