Why Jewish Innovation Matters Now More Than Ever

These organizations from Slingshot’s “10 to Watch” list are responding to critical needs in the Jewish world and beyond.

This article was sponsored by Slingshot.

When I started college in 2007, I decided I wasn’t going to be Jewish anymore. Burnt out from my youth group and captivated by new interests, Jewish activities no longer mattered to me. That quickly changed when I saw a poster in the college dining hall about a chance to travel to Honduras to learn about justice with a Jewish lens. Suddenly, students like me who thought they were “over” being Jewish had found something new, something different.

It wasn’t long before exploring new expressions of Jewish life led me to ask big questions: What would it look like to create new avenues for Jewish engagement, especially for people seeking to find their place in a community that no longer met their needs? How could Jewish life be more inclusive of young people on the margins, including women, Jews of Color, LGBTQ Jews, and Jews in low-income communities?

Fast forward 14 years, and I’m now the Chief Program Officer of Slingshot, an organization that engages young Jewish philanthropists to make a lasting impact on the Jewish world and beyond. It’s clear that the Jewish world in North America is changing. Over the next five to seven years, 75% of senior leaders in American Jewish nonprofits will likely retire or leave their positions. And new, young philanthropists are beginning to think differently about their investments.

Dena Verhoff, a young Jewish philanthropist, recently shared with me, “Young Jewish innovators are full of so much creativity that we need to tap into — especially during the COVID crisis. I’m eager to learn how to support new projects that reflect my values and are guided by the visions of young people.”

Dena is among many young philanthropic leaders who are excited about the landscape of Jewish innovation, highlighted in Slingshot’s 2021 “10 to Watch” list. This annual list calls attention to young organizations and projects in North America that are responding to current and timely needs in the Jewish community and beyond, such as supporting at-risk Jewish youth, addressing addiction and substance abuse, empowering teens to address the climate crisis, and ending sexual harassment and gender discrimination in Jewish workplaces. Many of these needs have been historically ignored by the Jewish philanthropic sector, and Slingshot is working to change that.

We were thrilled to receive nearly 50 applications for our 2021 “10 to Watch” list. The applicants represented a diverse range of identities and hailed from across the country.

Here are the organizations that made our list:

Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action

An inter-generational Jewish movement to confront the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold action.


Developing environmental education and gardening programs for Orthodox communities.

JCC Harlem

Creating unique and diverse access points to Jewish and communal life for members of the Harlem community.

Jewish Youth Climate Movement

Empowering Jewish teens to organize for climate justice. 

JQY Drop-In Center for LGBTQ Jewish Teens

A safe and free weekly space for LGBTQ teens and youth from Orthodox homes.

Lost Tribe Esports

Engaging teens in Jewish life and identity through digital media and the community of gaming.

The Elaine Breslow Institute at Beit T’Shuvah

Helping Jews overcome addiction and begin their healing journey. 

Ta’amod: Stand Up!

Putting a stop to sexual harassment by developing cultures of safety, respect, and equity in Jewish institutions.

TischPDX: Unaffiliated Jewish Leadership Incubator

Bolstering the leadership of diverse Jewish leaders in Portland, Oregon.

Work At It

Helping at-risk Jewish youth live meaningful, productive lives.

While each of these organizations serves a unique purpose, they meet a unifying need of bringing people together — and serving as an antidote to loneliness, which has only intensified during the pandemic.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing more information about each of these organizations and how you can support them, learn more, and even get involved!

As the Jewish community continues to evolve and experience new sets of challenges, I know we have much to gain by harnessing the energy of young people — activists and philanthropists alike — who are poised to lead us into the future. While the world is grappling with unprecedented challenges, these organizations, and the young philanthropists I work with every day, give me hope, inspiration, and confidence that we’ll be okay.

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