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.
“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 formalized nationally and held 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 USYers. At that convening, under the leadership of the newly elected National President, high schooler Paul Freedman, the two basic documents of the organization, Aims and Objectives and the USY Constitution, were adopted.
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). 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.
In 1969, the Youth Commission created Kadima, the youth group for middle school and junior high students. Summer programs have greatly expanded over the years.
Today USY has 350 local chapters in 17 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.