Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

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In 1898 Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes of Shearith Israel and representatives of fifty Orthodox congregations founded the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (UOJCA), also widely known as the Orthodox Union (OU). The organization’s founding mission was to perpetuate and preserve Modern Orthodox Judaism and to unify Jewish immigrant populations by connecting and strengthening Orthodox synagogue congregations across the United States, as well as Canada. The UOJCA steadily grew in scope and influence, especially following World War II.

From its inception, the UOJCA has worked to integrate Orthodox traditions more seamlessly and in pace with changing American lifestyles. Their success is due to the breadth of their efforts and approaches. They have standardized and enabled easy access to trustworthy information – in lending their easy-to-spot kosher insignia to food labels and in the regular publication (and now web presence) of a kosher products directory and mikvah directory. Starting in 1956 they commissioned designs for prefabricated synagogues, which could then be quickly erected by new congregations, especially in suburban communities. At that same time regional branches were developed to encourage cooperation between synagogues in shared locales in order to better solidify communities outside of major metropolitan areas and strengthen the presence of the Orthodox community in suburban America. In response to rising rates of intermarriage, the UOJCA began organizing singles events. The UOJCA has also actively supported Jewish education with scholarships (particularly for American college students studying abroad in Israel), lectures and educational programs.

A major function of the Union is to speak out on a public and national level on behalf of Orthodox Jews, responding to such wide-ranging topics as Sabbath and slaughterhouse legislation, U.S. policy in the Middle East, Soviet Jewry, funeral standards and the role of women in Orthodox Judaism. In addition to advocacy, another cornerstone of UOJCA’s strength and influence has been its outreach to youth and the disabled.

Over the years the UOJCA created a number of auxiliary branches. The histories of five major branches reflected in the present collection are summarized below.

In 1923, during Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein’s tenure as UOJCA President, the Women’s Branch was founded, with the primary goal of networking synagogue sisterhoods in North America, as well as increasing the understanding and practice of Orthodox traditions and rituals among Jewish women and youth. The Women’s Branch works towards these goals by sponsoring educational and social activities, leadership events and scholarships for women. Rabbi Goldstein’s wife, Rebecca Fischel Goldstein, was the Women’s Branch’s first President.

The UOJCA’s well-known role in the kosher food industry and certification process began with a Kashruth Committee formed by the Women’s Branch between 1923 and 1925. The committee approached food manufacturers, analyzed the Kashruth of their products and also worked to persuade manufacturers to replace non-kosher with kosher ingredients. Building on the Committee’s exploratory efforts, in 1925 the UOJCA officially started their non-profit supervision service and certification process under the auspices of the Kashruth Division. Heinz ketchup was the first product to sport UOJCA’s certified kosher symbol.

The UOJCA formed the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) in 1954 with the intent to nationally organize Orthodox synagogue adolescent youth groups and formally affiliate those youth groups with the UOJCA. With time NCSY broadened its target community to adolescents of all Jewish affiliations, especially those coming from nonobservant families, and introduced them to Orthodox Judaism through social, educational, cultural and religious communal activities. NCSY developed regional branches within the U.S. and international programs as well in Israel and the Ukraine. The group contributed to the development of outreach programs, Our Way and Yachad, for disabled youth and the deaf in particular. NCSY played a significant role in the Teshuva movement and resurgence of Orthodoxy in the 1960s and after.

Rabbi Pinchas Stolper was a founder of NCSY in 1954, and Stolper became NCSY’s first National Director in 1959, a position he would carry until 1976 when he became the Executive Vice President of UOJCA until 1994. He returned to the position of NCSY National Director between 1994 and 1998. Rabbi Stolper (1931- ) graduated from Brooklyn College in 1952 and was ordained at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in 1956. Later Stolper was Adjunct Professor of Jewish Studies at Touro College, and he authored and edited books and manuals for Jewish youth.

The Israel Center, also known as the OU/NCSY Israel Center, opened in Jerusalem in 1978 originally as a community center for NCSY college students studying abroad in Israel for a year. Though youth remains at its core, the Center has also expanded beyond that original mission and target group to reach out also to Russian immigrants and senior citizens. The Center offers social, educational, cultural and religious programming intended to aid foreigners (whether students, travelers or immigrants) in integrating into life in Israel and strengthening their Jewish identities.

The Department of Synagogue Services liaises with UOJCA’s constituent congregations, providing synagogue administration advice and programming. The Department of Synagogue Services had been formerly known as the Division of Synagogue Services, the Synagogue Services Commission, and perhaps also the Synagogue Service Bureau and the Synagogue Relations Division. Around 1980 Rabbi Stolper proposed the UOJCA revamp the department, and in 1983 Rabbi Bertram Leff was hired to lead the department in that revitalization.

From the guide to the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America Records, 1911-1915, 1925-1997 (bulk 1933-1992), (American Jewish Historical Society)

Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Berman, Julius person
associatedWith Bernstein, Saul, 1908- person
associatedWith Butler, Raphael person
associatedWith Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War. corporateBody
associatedWith Feuerstein, Moses person
associatedWith Goldstein, Herbert S. (Herbert Samuel), 1890-1970. person
associatedWith Jacobs, Harold M. person
associatedWith Jung, Leo, 1892-1987. person
associatedWith Kwestel, Sidney person
associatedWith Langsam, Naftali M. person
associatedWith Leff, Bertram person
associatedWith Lipshitz, Chaim Uri. person
associatedWith National Conference of Synagogue Youth corporateBody
associatedWith Nirenstein, Samuel person
associatedWith Pool, David de Sola, person
associatedWith Sherer, Morris, 1921- person
associatedWith Stolper, Pinchas person
associatedWith Weiss, Samson R. person
associatedWith Weiss, William person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (N.Y.)
Jerusalem
United States
Subject
Funeral rites and ceremonies
Judaism--United States
Mourning customs
United States--Relations--Russia
Sabbath legislation
Education
Jewish Life
Judaism--Relations
Synagogues--United States
Soldiers, Jews
United States
Slaughtering and slaughter-houses--United States
College and universities
Dietary laws
Occupation
Activity

Corporate Body

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