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Constitutional Crisis At Young Israel

Constitutional Crisis At Young Israel

In a surprise move, the president and board chairman of the embattled National Council of Young Israel both announced their resignations Tuesday, and the organization’s executive vice president, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, received board approval to take a six-month sabbatical.

Some of those actions were quickly denounced as “unconstitutional” by Avi Goldberg, a spokesman for a group of Young Israel synagogue leaders who have been complaining for more than a year about a lack of transparency in the organization.

The National Council’s president, Shlomo Mostofsky, said in a statement that he would be stepping down at the end of the year to spend more time with his family and to place a renewed focus on his law practice and other professional pursuits. He has served as president since 2000.

The statement said that pursuant to the organization’s constitution, the first vice president, Eli Dworetsky, a New York-based CPA whose family has multi-generational involvement with the Young Israel movement, would assume the presidency.

Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz, the organization’s board chairman for the past seven years, also announced his immediate resignation. Sheldon Schreiner of Plainview, L.I., a three-term past president of the Young Israel of Plainview and the national group’s current financial secretary, was appointed to succeed Rabbi Gewirtz.

In a statement, Goldberg pointed out that the National Council’s constitution “requires elections to be held every two years, but none have taken place in almost five years. Mostofsky’s move to appoint successors circumvents the organization’s governing rules and is yet another example of the board’s disregard for fundamental governance requirements.”

In light of that, Goldberg called upon all approximately 120 Young Israel congregations to place their annual membership dues in escrow until there are “fair and open elections … the required financial audit is completed” and delegates are again able to vote by telephone at national meetings.

A leader of the organization who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals said he was surprised when the press release referred to Dworetsky’s selection as being in accordance with the group’s constitution.

“You can’t cherry pick when you are going to follow the constitution,” he said. “Once you decide not to hold elections, you throw the whole constitution in the air; you can’t trot it out when it suits your purpose.”

Rabbi Lerner, who asked for a six-month sabbatical after 20 years as its executive director, said he wanted to pursue some “special projects … solely for the betterment of the Jewish community and the State of Israel.”

Neither he, Rabbi Gewirtz or Mostofsky replied to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

It was announced that Rabbi Bini Maryles, senior director of branch services, would be given the additional position of associate executive director to handle day-to-day operations in Rabbi Lerner’s absence.

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