One Take on Slingshot: Why Rabbis are Still Important

Rabbis lead eleven of the sixty organizations named yesterday to the annual Slingshot Guide of the most innovative Jewish organizations. Four of these organizations are new additions to the list this year. An additional two organizations were led by rabbis at the time of the application.

“The Slingshot Guide recognizes that rabbis continue to be inspirational and innovative moral and spiritual leaders,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, through which more than 1800 rabbis advocate for human rights in North America and Israel. “As the Jewish world has changed, rabbis have continuously drawn on our long history of wisdom and tradition to respond to the most pressing questions of the moment.”

This year’s list continues a trend toward an increased representation of rabbi-led organizations on the list. The 2010 list included ten rabbi-led organizations, including two that remain on the list, but are no longer led by rabbis. In 2009, only four rabbi-led organizations made the list.

“I became a rabbi in order to revitalize the Jewish community. It is heartening to see so many colleagues also recognized for their leadership of innovative organizations,” commented Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, the Executive Director of Mechon Hadar, which was named as one of the “standard bearers,” a designation given to organizations that have been in Slingshot for several years.

“As a rabbi, I am committed to using out-of-the-box thinking to engage Jews not being reached through traditional models,” added Rabbi Laura Baum, one of the founders of, an on-line Jewish community. “The recognition from Slingshot affirms the innovative work that we and others are doing.”

In addition to Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, Mechon Hadar, and, the rabbi-led organizations are Ikar, The Bronfman Youth Fellowships Alumni Venture Fund, Gateways-Access to Jewish Education, Hebrew SeniorLife Chaplaincy Institute, Judaism Your Way, The Kavana Cooperative, Torch, and Uri L’tzedek. The Panim Institute of BBYO and Encounter were both founded by rabbis and led by rabbis until a few months ago. At least six additional organizations have rabbis on their senior staffs.

The list is also notable for the large number of Conservative and Orthodox rabbis included. Of the thirteen organizations named above, seven are or were until recently led by Conservative rabbis, and four are led or co-led by Orthodox rabbis.

Slingshot is used by philanthropists, volunteers, not-for-profit executives, and program participants to identify path-finding and trailblazing organizations grappling with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, and tradition.

According to Will Schneider, Executive Director of Slingshot, “We had more applications than ever this year, with a wider variety of missions. In order to be selected by our evaluators, innovations and their impact had to resonate more than ever.”

[eJP note: of additional note, women lead/co-lead at least 34 of the 60 groups.]