A Guide to Recognizing Creative Jewish Nonprofits

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For the 11th year in a row, Slingshot, a Zagat-style guidebook, has highlighted the 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits across the country in its estimation. The organization is also a funding source advocating for innovation, and has disbursed more than $2.5 million to honorees over the past nine years. 
 

Slinging into a new year is a new round of Jewish innovators. 
 
For the 11th year in a row, Slingshot, a Zagat-style guidebook, has highlighted the 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits across the country in its estimation. The organization is also a funding source advocating for innovation, and has disbursed more than $2.5 million to honorees over the past nine years. 
 
In 2007, next-generation funders created this peer-giving network to support Jewish organizations that resonated with their younger generation, developing grant-making opportunities. 
 
Eighteen of the 50 organizations are based in or do some of their work in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas, while 27 are in the Northeast region, encompassing New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Philadelphia. 
 
Notable organizations on the list from Washington, D.C., like 2239; Jewish Mindfulness Center of Washington at Adas Israel; and Sixth & I Historic Synagogue; or organizations from Philadelphia like Moving Traditions; Challah for Hunger; and JCHAI have been selected to be part of the Slingshot guide several times.  
 
The JCC’s Charm City Tribe in Baltimore is new to this year’s guide, joining Pearlstone Center, which is being recognized for the fifth time.
 
Stefanie Rhodes, Slingshot executive director, said the nonprofit intends to help people find, fund and connect to Jewish life, whether through next-generation funders, foundation professionals and funders in the Jewish innovation space, or the innovators themselves.
 
“Originally, it was created for these next-generation funders to find really cutting-edge things that were happening in Jewish life,” she explained. “Having this resource was helpful not just for them: Over time, what we’ve learned is that people use this for all kinds of reasons.”
 
The 50 organizations that made the list were narrowed down from 250 applicants based on innovation, impact, strong leadership and organizational effectiveness.
 
The number of guides differs each year as well. In addition to the national one, this year’s supplements included a Chicago edition and the Women and Girls edition. 
 
 About 28 percent of the organizations on the national guide are first-timers.
 
“The organizations featured in the guide, wherever they are, are addressing a need in a creative, innovative, groundbreaking way,” Rhodes continued. “They are really finding a way to get young Jews to participate in Jewish life” who are otherwise unengaged or unaffiliated.
 
“There are so many wonderful [organizations],” she continued, “and it’s sort of this great intersection of things, which really brings out people seemingly for the first time or in brand new ways, and those are all really exciting.”
 
Some of those ways, like the supplements, include branching out to youths or talking about health issues or women’s issues. 
 
“We’re a very diverse people now, with lots of different interests, and it’s allowing you to plug into multiple needs and interests under the Jewish umbrella that feels inclusive and exciting,” Rhodes said. “These people are finding ways to connect with others in new, different, creative ways. Judaism is a religion and culture based on tradition, and they’re really respecting the traditions but finding a way to make it new and fresh.”
 
One of those innovative organizations is Challah for Hunger.
 
Carly Zimmerman, CEO of Challah for Hunger, which is located in Philadelphia, has been in the guide five times at last count.
 
“I think there’s something really special about this year’s Slingshot guide, which is that they sort of went back to their roots,” she said. “I know they looked at innovation, both meaning new organizations and in terms of innovation from within.
 
“For us to be in the guide this year — and so many times before — we’re really proud of it because our program is simple but it demonstrates that simple can be innovative. In a world where there’s so many options, sometimes it is the most simple idea or activity that brings people together.”
 
Deborah Meyer, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based organization Moving Traditions, said she appreciates Slingshot’s stamp of approval for the 10th time. 
 
 Her organization keeps Jewish teens healthy and Jewish and giving them meaningful opportunities to explore fundamental questions of identity and society. 
 
Through two programs — one for boys and one for girls — they explore issues once a month about body image, friendships, academic pressure and parents.
 
“We connect those real teen issues to Jewish teachings and values, and we do so in an environment that really lets teens explore the topics and determine for themselves what they think as opposed to trying to transmit the correct answer,” she said. 
 
“At a time when there’s a certain amount of despondency about the number of people who are engaged in Jewish life, I think the Slingshot organization really show that there is still a lot of positive energy in the Jewish world who are thinking very creatively and really in fact are inspiring Jewish engagement.” 
 
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737
 

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