Slingshot list confirms Jewish innovation in Bay Area

When it comes to Jewish organizations, we in the Bay Area aren’t content to rest on our laurels. The Slingshot Fund’s ninth annual guide to the 50 most inspirational and innovative nonprofits in Jewish life in North America includes nine agencies based in the Bay Area.

That’s up from seven last year and six the year before. And the Bay Area accounts for 18 percent of this year’s list.

Among the new names is The Kitchen, the independent Shabbat community in San Francisco’s Mission District. Led by Rabbi Noa Kushner, who previously led innovative programming at San Rafael’s Congregation Rodef Sholom, the 2-year-old community has become popular with young families and those seeking a DIY toolkit for Jewish practice in their own homes.

Another newbie on the list is the Jewish New Teacher Project, a Santa Cruz–based program that supports new teachers at Jewish day schools. The S.F.-based Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, which seeks to educate people on the role of Jewish partisans in World War II, returns to the guide after appearing six times, including being highlighted in 2011.

Each candidate for the Slingshot guide is evaluated on four criteria: innovation, impact, strong leadership and organizational effectiveness. Of the 50 nonprofits selected, the average founding year is 2005 and the average annual budget is $717,320. Women lead 52 percent of the groups.

Other honorees from the Bay Area are Wilderness Torah and Urban Adamah (nature-based Jewish education programs in Berkeley); Amir (S.F.-based farming and food justice nonprofit); A Wider Bridge (S.F.-based nonprofit aimed at building connections with the LGBT community in Israel); G-dcast (S.F.-based Jewish new- media productions); and Kevah (Berkeley-based organizer of Torah study groups).

In addition to the list of 50, the guide also features 17 “standard bearers,” organizations that are included consistently as “models of innovation.”

In that category is a nonprofit that was born in Oakland in 2006, Moishe House, which sets up Jewish communal living environments for post-college young adults. Moishe House recently moved its headquarters from Oakland to San Diego County. The Jewish environmental and food education organization Hazon, which has an office in San Francisco, is also on the list.

This year, Slingshot published two supplements — “Disabilities  & Inclusion” and “Women & Girls.”

In the former category, the North Peninsula Special Needs Consortium (known as INCLUDE) received mention. A joint project of Jewish LearningWorks and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federa-tion and a group made up of North Peninsula congregations, day schools, JCCs and Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the consortium serves special-needs families and aims to make synagogues and Jewish organizations more welcoming for all.

In the “Women & Girls” supplement, the Oakland-based nonprofit Shalom Bayit received mention. The 11-year-old organization is dedicated to ending domestic violence in Jewish homes through educational programming, retreats and a slew of resources.

For more information or to order a Slingshot guide, visit It’s available in hard copy and as a free download.


Does Slingshot guide help innovators hit their marks?

The biblical David used a slingshot to kill Goliath, thus earning the attention of King Saul.

Today, Jewish organizations are trying to use the annual Slingshot Guide of the 50 “most innovative organizations and projects” to capture the attention of donors. The ninth installment of the guide was released Oct. 24. (See page 9 for local groups that made the list.)

Launched in 2005 by a group of donors in their 20s and 30s, the guide evaluates North American Jewish organizations based on “their innovative approach, the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector, and their effectiveness at achieving results.”

Sarah Lefton, G-dcast

Inclusion in Slingshot offers “a stamp of recognition,” said Vivian Stadlin, co-director of Eden Village Camp, a 4-year-old overnight camp focused on environmental sustainability that has appeared in Slingshot for several consecutive years.

“Even if a prospective parent doesn’t know about Slingshot, to be able to say we appear in the Slingshot list of 50 most innovative Jewish groups puts people at ease,” she added. “It gives the sense that they’re climbing aboard a winning ship.”

Ed Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily, a website offering resources for interfaith families and one of the guide’s “standard bearers,” or groups that are included yearly as “models of innovation,” said making the Slingshot list offers a hechsher, or seal of approval, “especially for new organizations getting started.”

While commonly viewed as emphasizing programs serving young Jews, several Slingshot organizations in the guide focus on baby boomers and the elderly, such as Wise Aging, a program of New York’s Institute for Jewish Spirituality that provides “spiritual learning, intellectual engagement and community gathering” for Jews 65 and older, and Kavod v’Nichum, a group in Columbia, Md., that teaches about traditional Jewish burial rituals and provides training and resources to Jewish burial societies.

Whether Slingshot inclusion has a financial benefit is an open question. Guide inclusion does not come with any monetary reward, although those that make the list are eligible to receive grants through the Slingshot Fund.

Julie Finkelstein, Slingshot’s program director, said many organizations “leverage it to receive funding from other sources.” Case said his group has received grants from small foundations that discovered it through Slingshot.

Sarah Lefton, executive director and producer of G-dcast, a new-media production company in San Francisco that has been in Slingshot for four consecutive years, praised the guide, particularly the openness of its organizers to feedback.

However, several professionals say the application process is burdensome, the selection process overly subjective and the payoff not always clear.

A professional with an organization featured multiple times in Slingshot who did not want to be seen publicly criticizing the group said she has heard “a lot of grousing about it from Jewish organizations.”

“It’s a really involved application both to be in the guide and to get money [through the Slingshot Fund], and there’s not a clear return,” she said.

Another Jewish professional echoed this concern, saying, “People like the recognition, but I’m not sure how many organizations have seen real gains or been able to leverage it into grants.”

Slingshot Day, which brings together groups and donors, also gets mixed reviews. Case said it’s “great to have the once-a-year opportunity to meet with counterparts — that is rare to nonexistent otherwise, especially for organizations not based in New York.”

But another professional said there’s a “mismatch” at the annual conference between the expectations of funders and the organizations seeking support.

“The organizations are coming to meet funders, but the funders are not coming to be met,” the professional said.

For the first time this year, Slingshot published two supplements to the list: one on “Disabilities & Inclusion,” in partnership with the Ruderman Foundation, and another on “Women & Girls,” in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. The aim was to broaden its community and attract public interest and donor support in these areas.

Also included are the guide’s 17 standard bearers, which include organizations such as Moishe House, a social and educational group for 20-something Jews that originated in Oakland, and Mechon Hadar, a liberal yeshiva in New York.

Newcomers to the list this year include City Harvest’s Kosher Initiative, a hunger-relief project in New York; NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change, of Los Angeles; Ramah Tikvah Network, a training program for professionals serving special-needs populations; and The Kitchen, an alternative congregation in San Francisco.

“Slingshot is a resource highlighting the breadth and depth of the Jewish community at this moment, and it is relied upon by doers and donors alike,” said Will Schneider, Slingshot’s executive director.

Meredith Lewis, director of operations at MyJewishLearning, which has made the top 50 for the past five years, said Slingshot — and particularly the annual conference — helped her group forge partnerships with others, such as the Institute for Southern Jewish Life and Keshet, an LGBT advocacy group.

“When we’re thinking about new partners to bring on, that’s the first place we look,” she said.


editorial: Slingshot list reverberates with energy, passion and purpose

Given the Bay Area’s penchant for innovation, it’s no surprise that our region accounted for nearly 20 percent of the Slingshot Fund’s just-released list of the most cutting-edge and inspirational Jewish nonprofits in North America.

Many of the superb organizations named are familiar to readers of j. They include the Mission District’s Shabbat community, The Kitchen; Wilderness Torah, which promotes Earth-based Judaism; Jewish environmental advocate Hazon; Urban Adamah, Berkeley’s urban farm; Jewish animation project G-dcast; domestic violence organization Shalom Bayit; The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation; Moishe House; A Wider Bridge, which fosters links between LBGT communities in the United States and Israel; and Kevah, the Berkeley-based organizer of Torah study groups.

In a section devoted to organizations that aid the disabled, Friendship Circle International, a Chabad-led program that pairs Jewish teens with young special needs kids, and INCLUDE North Peninsula, a collaboration between Jewish LearningWorks and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation to spur inclusion in Jewish institutions, were singled out for recognition.

Others names on the Slingshot list may be less familiar, among them the Jewish New Teacher Project out of Santa Cruz, and Amir, a food justice organization based in San Francisco. You can read more about these local organizations in our story on page 9.

The annual Slingshot guide matters.

Launched in 2004 by a group of young Jewish philanthropists interested in empowering next-generation givers like themselves, Slingshot has become a major funding source for innovative organizations like those mentioned above. The Slingshot Guide, published annually since 2005, shines a bright light on next-generation organizations that will shape the conversation in the Jewish community in the years ahead.

We congratulate all these local groups on making Slingshot’s list this year. Many organizations are able to leverage this honor to boost their fundraising efforts, as described in our story on page 10.

But beyond the potential financial benefit, being listed in Slingshot gives new Jewish organizations a kind of seal of approval, setting them up as examples for other would-be activists and entrepreneurs to learn from and even emulate. All in all, the project represents the best of new Jewish energy: next-gen philanthropists honoring their nonprofit peers for best practices in Jewish innovation aimed at building and strengthening Jewish life in this country and around the world.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.