Snapshot of an Evolving Jewish Landscape

Fifty of the most innovative Jewish nonprofits in North America have been named in the 2008/2009 edition of Slingshot: A Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation. Compiled and published by 21/64, a division of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, the annual guidebook celebrates programs and organizations that take innovative approaches to addressing age-old concerns of identity and community in Jewish life today.

Each year, the organizations listed in Slingshot offer a glimpse into the trends shaping North America’s Jewish nonprofit sector and the Jewish community at large. The most incisive development of Slingshot 08/09 is that American Jews are reclaiming ritual. In other words, they are engaging in programs that teach Jewish history, liturgy, language, ritual, and culture, but recasting the “old” in new ways, consistent with contemporary lifestyles.

“Slingshot 08/09 shows us once again that both fledgling programs and established organizations across the U.S. are teeming with Jewish innovation, said Roger Bennett, co-founder of 21/64 and senior vice president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. “For years, I’ve heard skeptics say that Jewish innovation is a clever way of describing hip programs that are culturally-driven, but lacking in Jewish substance. Not true. The organizations in Slingshot 08/09 show us clearly that Jewish innovation consists of a profound mix of ritual, history, language and culture.

The 50 organizations named in Slingshot 08/09 encompass a great variety of issues. Following are five of the major categories, with examples and links to some of those named in the book.

“Reinvention and adaptation are the hallmarks of Judaism, and the Slingshot organizations are leading the charge in North America,” said Sharna Goldseker, co-founder and Director of 21/64 and vice president of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. “By challenging convention and exploring new ways to bridge the past with the next generation, these nonprofits tell us that our tradition, history, and culture are still central to how we identify ourselves.”

The 50 nonprofits named in this year’s book were selected after an extensive evaluation process conducted by 25 foundation professionals with expertise in funding Jewish life. Each organization was extensively reviewed and selected based on its innovative response to the changing needs of the Jewish community and the world around it, impact on its constituents, organizational effectiveness and leadership.

First published in 2005, Slingshot is a tool for philanthropic funders seeking to diversify their giving portfolios with Jewish organizations that take innovative approaches to solving long-term problems. By indentifying and vetting these organizations for potential funders, Slingshot creates exposure and funding opportunities for undercapitalized emerging nonprofits and those established Jewish organizations pursuing innovative programming.

Inspired by the annual guidebook, a group of prominent, young Jewish funders established the Slingshot Fund, which supports organizations featured in Slingshot each year with capacity-building grants.

The Fund will announce its annual round of ten grantees in late September. The Slingshot Fund is indicative of a movement among North America’s next generation of funders, who tend to fund organizations directly rather than support larger public charities and federation systems that allocate money on a donor’s behalf.

You can order your own free copy of the guide, or download the PDF, here.