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USY’s History

The First USY Chapter

Under the leadership of both Rabbi David Aronson and Rabbi Kassel Abelson, the first USY chapter was founded at Beth El Synagogue in Minneapolis in 1948 to provide for the social and spiritual needs of its teens. Soon, other synagogues began following suit.

Founding the National Organization

The Youth Commission unanimously agrees that the teenage groups come under the general supervision of the Youth Commission. Teenage groups should include boys and girls of high school level, 13 to 17 years inclusive…The Youth Commission shall concern itself with non-scholastic group work for teenagers.”

With these words, on March 19, 1951 USY was formed nationally at its first convention, bringing together delegates from synagogues and other youth groups across the country, along with lay and professional youth workers of USCJ.

All told, more than 500 people, representing 65 communities from 14 states and Canada attended the first official meeting of USY.

At that convening, under the leadership of the newly elected national president, Paul Freedman, the two basic documents of the organization, Aims and Objectives and the USY Constitution, were adopted.

USY’s Tzedakah Program

In 1956, the Two-o-Nine tzedakah (Charity) project began (later revamped to become Tikun Olam, the social action/charity project that all contemporary USYers recognize).

Summer Travel for Teens

That same summer, twelve USYers went on the first organization sponsored trip to Israel. Known as the USY Israel Summer Pilgrimage, it became the first of the USY summer programs.

Two years later, Pilgrimage enrollment had already increased to 100 teens. In 1961, USY further expanded its summer programs when two staff members took four USYers on their “Schlep and Pray Across the USA,” the first USY on Wheels trip.

PreTeen Programming

In 1969, the Youth Commission created Kadima, the youth group for middle school and junior high students.

USY Today

Today USY has 350 local chapters in 16 regions across North America and continues to teach young Jews the values and skills they need to become exceptional leaders in their religious and secular communities.

Timeline

1948
January 1

Beth El synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota started the first USY chapter to provide for the social and spiritual needs of its teens.

1951
January 5

USY became a formalized organization nationally and held its first convention, which brought together over a thousand USYers. In the few years that followed, almost all of the modern regions formed.

1961
January 5

USY launched its inaugural USY on Wheels summer bus tour across the U.S.

1964
January 5

Kadima was officially created as a separate entity for pre-USY-age kids, who would go on to join the high-school age USY program.

1979
January 5

USY established the Abraham Joshua Heschel Honor Society. Named in honor of prominent Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Honor Society further encourages USYers to learn more about Judaism and the observance of Mitzvot

2010
January 5

USY and NOAM Olami, USY’s sister movement across the globe, held a joint biannual leadership conference.

2011
January 5

attendees to the International Convention in Philadelphia set the Guinness World Record for the most dreidels spinning simultaneously.

2015
January 5

USY launched its new summer trip, DREAM USY, a community service experience in the Dominican Republic.

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