The national group Slingshot recently released “Slingshot ’17,” a guide that highlights innovative Jewish projects in North America. Four of the 50 programs on the list are currently active in the Valley’s Jewish community.
Developed 12 years ago by a group of donors in their 20s and 30s, the guide recognizes innovative organizations and programs as “those that are able to act efficiently, adapt to current demands in the community and create new models for achieving positive outcomes,” according to the guide. In 2007, the group responsible for the guide took their efforts a step further and created the Slingshot Fund, a peer-giving network that helps next-generation funders develop skills such as reviewing grant proposals, conducting site visits and making allocation decisions.
The four programs currently present in the Greater Phoenix area are Honeymoon Israel, PJ Library, Moishe House and Challah for Hunger.
Honeymoon Israel and PJ Library
Both Honeymoon Israel and PJ Library are coordinated locally through Valley Beit Midrash.
“With VBM as the center for Jewish innovation in the Valley, we are proud that both programs were acknowledged by Slingshot as two of the most innovative programs in the country,” said Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, via email.
In 2015, 20 Phoenix couples were included in the pilot program of the national initiative Honeymoon Israel in partnership with Valley Beit Midrash.
The heavily subsidized trip to Israel is for couples ages 25 to 40 who are early in their committed relationships. It is open to interfaith couples, same-sex couples and those who will be married by the start of the trip. At least one participant has to be Jewish, and it has to be the first organized trip to Israel for at least one of the partners.
This past February, Valley Beit Midrash sent its third cohort on the trip and there are plans in the works for a large gathering to bring all three cohorts together, according to Yanklowitz. A fourth trip is being scheduled for 2018, although the dates have not yet been finalized.
PJ Library, a national Jewish literacy program run by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, was brought to the Valley in 2010 through the efforts of Alison Betts and Jason Israel. PJ Library of Phoenix is funded by local donors and has been a program of Valley Beit Midrash since October 2015. Prior to that, the Bureau of Jewish Education administered the program and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix served as a fundraising partner.
Through PJ Library, families with children up to age 8 sign up to receive a free Jewish book or CD in the mail each month. Children ages 9 to 11 are invited to sign up for PJ Our Way, where they can select one of four Jewish books every month and participate with their peers in PJ Our Way’s online community.
This past April, PJ Library of Phoenix held its first family camp, made possible by a multiyear donation from Brooke and James Levy. A second family camp session is planned for April 2018. Also new this year is a read-a-thon, which runs through July 31. All PJ Library children can read to raise donations for PJ Library while earning prizes. Each child can also have his or her own webpage.
This month, Marcy Lewis started as PJ Library of Phoenix’s new director.
There is also a PJ Library of Prescott sponsored and funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Prescott. It serves families with children ages 6 months through age 7 in the communities of Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley and Dewey-Humboldt.
Visit pjlibrary.org for more information.
Since 2006, Moishe House has established peer-led, home-based programming for Jewish adults ages 21 to 30. Moishe House Phoenix, located in Scottsdale, was founded in 2014.
Sponsors of the local house include the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, The Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation, Young Jewish Funders of Arizona, Robyn Schneider, the Federation’s NowGen Giving Circle and philanthropist Sheila Schwartz.
Moishe House Phoenix hosts local events, such as classes, Shabbat dinners and backyard barbecues, but also invites young Jewish adults to community events or social activities. There are currently 102 Moishe Houses in 25 countries, according to moishehouse.org.
Challah for Hunger
Challah for Hunger brings people together to bake and sell challah as part of an effort to raise money and awareness for social justice causes.
The program started in 2004, when a student at Scripps College decided to bake challah with friends and sell the loaves to raise money for hunger-relief causes. Thirteen years later, Challah for Hunger operates 83 chapters across the U.S., Canada and the world, including chapters at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. All chapters give half their proceeds to local hunger organizations and half to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger.
The Women’s Jewish Learning Center in Scottsdale, founded by Rabbi Elana Kanter in 2010, was included in the Slingshot guide in 2012 and in the Slingshot Supplement for Women & Girls in 2013 and 2014. So far, it is the only organization founded in the Valley to be included in the guide.
Seventeen organizations appeared in Slingshot for the first time this year, including Honeymoon Israel. Here are a list of the other first-timers:
70 Faces Media: The Jewish digital organization formed in 2015 as a merger between Jewish Telegraphic Agency and MyJewishLearning, and includes the Jewish parenting site Kveller, the Jewish food and recipe blog The Nosher and Jewniverse, a blog and daily email that serves up unusual discoveries about Jewish culture, tradition and history.
Boy to Mentsch: This Jewish Women International program to end domestic violence focuses on Baltimore’s ultra-Orthodox community and delivers education on healthy masculinity to fathers and sons at synagogues, schools, sports leagues and camps.
Coastal Roots Farm: In 2012, the Leichtag Foundation purchased a flower farm in Encinitas, California, and created the Coastal Roots Farm, a nonprofit community farm and education center that practices sustainable farming, shares its harvest with those who lack access to healthy food and offers creative Jewish programming.
Don’t Kvetch, Organize!: This affordable, seven-week online course seeks to teach leaders nationally how to mobilize Jewish communities for social justice.
jBaby Chicago: This organization partners with Jewish groups to connect parents of young children to local Jewish programming for their children. The program includes maintaining a website, subsidizing attendance costs and employing “parent ambassadors” to welcome new parents to Chicago’s Jewish community.
Jenerator: This Bay Area venture seeks to bolster nonprofits’ ability to generate earned income by connecting them with experts in business, finance, law, marketing and other sectors who provide pro bono advice on how to develop, launch and manage a business strategy.
Leading Edge: This program addresses upcoming leadership needs of the Jewish nonprofit sector.
Orot: Center for New Jewish Learning: Part meditation and yoga studio, part traditional Jewish learning center, Orot offers a holistic approach to Jewish engagement and study that allows Jews to connect their secular passions and interests to Judaism. The center is located in Skokie, Illinois.
Partners in Prevention: The program provides emotional and spiritual healing to individuals and families with addictive and behavioral disorders.
Persian Pride @ JQ International: Persian Pride provides culturally relevant programming and support services to the LGBTQ Persian Jewish community.
Project Zug: This online learning platform brings Jews from different backgrounds together to study havruta-style (as partners).
Shalom Task Force: This agency provides services and prevention education tailored to Orthodox Jewish victims of domestic violence.
Shoresh’s Community-Supported Beekeeping Initiative: The Toronto program is a full-system, holistic approach to beekeeping that targets bee health and restoration through habitat building and beekeeping, and engages the Jewish community in addressing this issue.
Theatre Dybbuk: Based in Los Angeles, Theatre Dybbuk offers theatrical presentations and workshops with Jewish content.
Tivnu Gap Year: This Portland initiative engages young adults in hands-on service, advocacy, education and communal living within a pluralistic Jewish context.
The Well: Serving the metro Detroit area, this program seeks to embrace disengaged Jews through programming. JN
You can download the entire guide at slingshotguide.org.