Slingshot Fund Shows Promise for the Next Generation of Jewish Philanthropists

Envisioning the Future
Photo by Nic McPhee

The promise to the next generation has always been bigger and better. But when it comes to Jewish philanthropy, young entrepreneurs are shaking their heads– “We want our own vision,” they say. “That was yours.”

So what is the future of Jewish philanthropy and Jewish organizations? Today’s leader in cutting edge philanthropy is the Slingshot Fund. If Jewish innovation is what you want, then the Slingshot Fund is where to get it.

Why You Should Care About the Slingshot Fund

The epitome of an 21st century organization geared to take on the challenges of the upcoming decade, Slingshot is best known for its annually released “Slingshot Resource Guide to American Jewish Innovation.”

In its efforts to identify and sponsor organizations in the Jewish community based on emerging interests and priorities, Slingshot serves as a catalyst and a conduit for getting young social entrepreneurs involved in Jewish giving.

8 Grants for 5768

The Slingshot Fund’s $360,000 inaugural grants were announced this week. Here are the 8 lucky grantees:

  • Goldring/Woldenberg Institute for Southern Jewish Life, providing educational and rabbinic services to isolated Jewish communities, and documenting Southern Jewish lie
  • JDub Records, promoting Jewish values and community connections through reggae and hip hop (think: Matisyahu)
  • Jewish Funds for Justice, promoting vibrant Jewish communities and skillful leaders
  • Just Vision, using media and educational tools to raise awareness and encourage civic participation in grassroots peacebuilding
  • Ikar, creating new models for spiritual Jewish communities, with novel experimentation with rituals, study, and social justice
  •, connecting families and Jewish communities across religious and spiritual modalities
  • Reboot, creating multi-media experiences in Jewish culture through literature, entertainment and social action for young adults
  • Storahtelling, performing weekly Torah portions and stories in schools and synagogues

What We Can Learn From This List

Now you know the who, but what about the why? What can we learn about current trends in Jewish philanthropy from this list? What does it tell us about how we envision our future?

It is no secret that young Jews are feeling increasingly disconnected from the large scale federated system of Jewish philanthropy housed in the United Jewish Communities.

Young people want more control than the federations can offer. They want direct routes to giving, transparent processes, and fuller accountability than their parents’ generation. Gone are the days when we trust in institutions and middle men to do our giving for us. We want direct control to ensure the maximum impact of our philanthropic dollar.

In a world where the prerequisites to social inclusion are often deemed insurmountable, young social activists are looking for answers. Slingshot provides a solution.

Look to this year’s Slingshot grantees and Guide members as leaders in taking on the Jewish community challenges that are to come.

(Keep reading for recommendations on learning more.)

Recommended Reading

Jewish Philanthropy:

* Includes a profile of Sharna Goldseker, one of the founders of the Slingshot Fund, as well as Vice President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, and Director of Grand Street and 21/64, organizations training the next generation of philanthropic leaders for family foundations.

Jewish Communal Innovation–
Look for the Big Ideas Series based on Charles Bronfman’s Brandeis Contest:

And from the Boston Globe:



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6 Responses to Slingshot Fund Shows Promise for the Next Generation of Jewish Philanthropists

  1. Shai says:

    I like where many of the proposals are going. The trend definitely seems to be in funding efforts that allow young Jews to find their Jewish identity within their sensibilities, which is probably productive. The experimentation proposals are great because they claim ownership and “shareholding”. I like that.

    Some of the buzzwords cause me some questions. For example, “social justice”. Three projects run up the flag on this issue. Does this phrase mean the same to everyone? Is it always socially just when the “underdog” wins, for example, or is there another principle that we should help the underdog, and we’re calling all of that “social justice”? How does the principle to judge fairly weigh against the obligation to be charitable to the poor? Is our motivation the value of social justice, or our image of ourselves as socially just, which we wish to convey to ourselves? Are the values shared, or highly individualized? Is the objective utilitarian, or in-of-itself a value? Is “social justice” a consumer product (a reflective image), or a “stakeholder” (a substantive image) activity?

    The reason I’m suspicious of it is that I see sometimes the idea of justice being blind, which ideally it ought to be, is a pretense. For example, we see that in the conflict with the Palestinians, where achieving “justice” for Palestinians amounts to an “injustice” for Jews, but prejudices regarding the claims of each or the nature of each weigh heavily on how people come down on each side of the issue. Jews can’t get a fair hearing anymore in many venues, even as they bend over backwords to ensure that the opposing views get a full hearing. Some Jews are irrationally rabidly anti-Jewish in this particular debate, in my view because they have a very simplistic view of values generally (as though they are transcendental truths rather than a framework for social order), not just this particular issue.

    I like the Storatelling idea – I have something in my project (to be seen soon on your blog) that could really benefit from the skills and values of this troupe, and if I win, I’ll defintely be in contact with them, and am looking forward to learning more about them.

    I’ve not been in the US for awhile so I’m not sure I “get” what JDub record does substantively – I’d like to know how (broadening the question) listening to “Jewish content” or reading “Jewish content” can have any sustainableimpact if we aren’t building communities and our social interactions around each other with “Jewish content”. There is definitely a geographic component to Jewishness that goes beyond what portable media can deliver, which is the sense that there is one place (a community) where we can be seen as non-fragmented persons. This is the brilliance in the idea of Shabbat and in prayer quorums – the first keeps you in a tight neighborhood because you can’t drive on Shabbat, the second gets you face to face with your neighbors 3 times a day. There may be other ways to achieve this (some say with some merit it’s founding a Jewish state), but I wonder if we’re fooling ourselves in believing that “content” can be sustained without “context”. Something worth exploring deeply, in my view. In my opinion we need both, and we shouldn’t be satisfied yet that by providing funding for one and not the other, that anything has really been “done”.

  2. thenewjew says:


    While “justice” does imply balance or righting something that is imbalanced, I don’t think that social justice necessarily mandates favoritism of the weaker over the stronger simply based on their standing. It is much more intelligent an assessment then that.


  3. Shai says:

    I agree. The example I gave, I hope, is an exception. I think we need to define terms.

    According to our tradition, there should be no favoritism given in a legal case to the strong, or to the weak, though outside of a court, we do offer tzedaka as an obligation to the poor. Notably, the “obligation” is not to the poor themselves. It is to our principle. We do this not because doing so makes us “good” (the meaning of “charity”), but because the poor person as a tzelim elokim is in need (the meaning of “tzedaka”, who’s hebrew root is “tzedek”, or “justice”). Our principle is the value of a human beings as “images of G-d”. Our “justice” flows from a sense of obligation, not from a sense of how righteous WE, or our CAUSES are. I am asking, without accusing, whether the efforts labeled “social justice” are self-aggrandizing, or from a sense of obligation. The former only achieves the results of their effort. The latter has the power to build communities.

    But let me give you a few more examples to place my thoughts about the breadth of “social justice” as a term in context:

    1) Jews are big donors to the United Way. In the 1970’s, Jewish donations to Jewish community centers and day camps (and other Jewish institutions such as nursing homes) were not large enough to permit them to not accept funding from the United Way. The United Way, I think due to challenges in court, required that all institutions that received UW funding not limit their memberships to any specific race, religion or gender.

    The result was that Jewish funding of the UW, and lack of it for Jewish institutions, opened up those institutions such that they were no longer an exclusively Jewish context. Barring that secular context for Jewish identity, the decision to be socially just to the community at large resulted in a weakening of our Jewish community. It is precisely the LACK of favoritism in Jewish giving that resulted in a loss of social justice for Jews.

    Was that TZEDEK? Ought the Jewish donations to the United Way have been rescinded so that we could maintain our community identity, or is “social justice” something that we owe to others before we owe it to ourselves? Which would have been an act of charity, and which an act of Tzedek? BTW, I’m not proposing an either/or scenario – it could be both – but given the circumstance, is there a PRIMARY obligation fo the two?

    2) The Jewish community in America is liberal, there is little doubt about that on the whole. As such, it is active on the national scene in America for liberal causes. Two liberal causes are Jewish support for separation of church and state and “public school education” issues that bring out the liberal Jewish community en masse. The Jewish Community have contributed to the legal lockdown on Jewish education (not to mention, also Muslim, Catholic and other education in a religious setting) such that two generations ago most Jews did not get a Jewish education because they couldn’t afford it. Today, they frequently don’t value it enough to afford it even when they can.

    Does the principle of “social justice” inherent in support for the institutions of public school (really, the idea of a general polity) justify the loss of opportunities for those who want, but can’t otherwise afford, a private parochial school education, especially when the price of this principle would be reduced Jewish self-identification?

    As principled as the position may be, is the rigidity of the church/state stance community-defeating? Why is it inconsistent with our Jewishness in an American state to, for example, allow vouchers for funding of secular education in private schools, if this freedom to choose is provided to all equally?

    Does “social justice” require that we always be mindful of our obligations as Jews, but not of our own communal obligations to Jews? Does not the free-choice that we as a community stand for require that we build socieities that open more opportunities, rather than limit them? I think we need to examine our motives – each of us individually. I’m not proposing that I or anybody else be the judge.

    Again, which choices were “charitable” because they have a utilitarian result (protection, assimilation, acceptance) vs. tzedaka because they have a substantive result (freedom of choice, strengthening of values and the institutions that support them, etc.)?

    3) It is a matter of “social justice” that Arabs be allowed on public transportation, and there are Jews in the US who find it distasteful that Arabs near my locale were refused a place on the bus, and had to walk to their places of work. On the face of it, this is unfair, I agree. But how far do Jews who are worried about the prospects of a suicide bomber, and losing their children’s or their own lives, have to bend over backwards to permit this “justice”?

    4) Does it only strike me as ironic that R. Eric Yoffee of the Reform Movement is today sitting with an American Muslim movement to reach better cross-denominational understanding, while at the same time on the whole the liberal Jewish community eschews understanding with the highly supportive (of Israel) Evangelical Christian movement?

    R. Yoffee explains his reaching out as being an “understanding” of the persecution that Muslims are going through, as we Jews once went through for our religion. Yet, isn’t it odd that a movement with 70% intermarriage rates in their ranks finds the Evangelicals distasteful because they distrust they might wish to convert Jews, and for this reason he has no dialogue with them?

    I’m not meaning to pick a fight with the Reform movement here. I do mean to ask the question about what the Jewish value in “social justice” is, hoping to find the seam between platitudes and the sense of obligation that comes with a true sense of tzedaka. I am pointing out also that even liberals can have orthodox (in the meaning of the word “correct beliefs”) perspectives that fall out of sync with reality, and that all Jews have to carefully examine their motives and ideals and see the full complexity of the “assessment” they make, whether it is, actually, “intelligent”.

    I extend the same fault to Orthodox Judaism, which largely eschews contact with the rabbinic leadership of other denominations for reasons I sense are not justified. For the sake of our community as a whole, “social justice” has to be something that leaves us as Jews whole, not further divided.

  4. Shai says:

    I want to add regarding item 3 that I live in a village on the Green Line. The Arabs who were getting on the bus generally didn’t have permits to work in “Israel Proper”. Due to the lack of manpower, the Army couldn’t check them all to make sure they were not packing “belts”.

  5. […] “Slingshot Fund Shows Promise for Next Generation of Jewish Philanthropists” […]

  6. […] and leaders across the country [US].” Mazal tov! Learn more about Slingshot here and here (via previous posts on The New […]

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