J'Burgh, which helps young Jewish adults in Pittsburgh get together and get involved in Jewish living, has been named one of the 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in North America by Slingshot, an organization for young Jewish philanthropists.
A listing in the highly regarded Slingshot directory is golden in the world of Jewish foundations, which are always looking for new ways to engage and retain the next generation in Jewish communal life.
"This really validates the investment our community has made in this program. It is also a real honor for all of our participants because we are a grass-roots organization with a planning committee of young adults who create the programs and help with marketing," said David Katz, director of J'Burgh.
J'Burgh is an initiative of the Hillel Jewish Community Center in Oakland with major funding from Shalom Pittsburgh at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.
It already has one imitator in Cleveland, called J'Cle, and Mr. Katz believes J'Burgh also can be a model for non-Jewish ethnic groups that are struggling to retain young adults. Will Schneider, director of Slingshot, says J'Burgh leaders should prepare for inquiries.
"I think they will be inundated with calls from across the county, from groups saying, 'We have the same problem you do in Pittsburgh, how do you do this? What made you successful?' " he said.
J'Burgh, which serves more than 2,500 young professionals and graduate students, was founded in 2007. Back then Jews in their 20s "weren't finding Pittsburgh to have a vibrant young Jewish adult scene, and they were choosing to go to larger cities," Mr. Katz said.
J'Burgh activities range from the purely social -- there's a poker night tonight -- to religious activities such as Sabbath gatherings. The organization has adopted Emerald View Park, which includes the scenic overviews on Mount Washington, as a service project.
J'Burgh is also known for the colorful sock monkey puppets that its members make on Christmas Day and donate to Children's Hospital.
"We are helping empower our young adults to become future leaders of our community, not only the Greater Pittsburgh community as a whole but the Jewish community," Mr. Katz said.
In the five years since J'Burgh was founded, the young Jewish exodus from Pittsburgh has slowed, he said. After the recession hit and it became more difficult to move to New York and Chicago for jobs, "more and more started to stay in Pittsburgh because we had established a vibrant young Jewish community here. It became an asset, helping us to retain young adults," Mr. Katz said.
The recognition from Slingshot "will be a stamp of approval for our current donors, and I believe it will open more doors for funding for years to come," he said.
Slingshot had 180 applicants for the 50 spots in its directory, and J'Burgh was among only 19 new honorees. Slingshot grew out of a 2003 retreat for young Jews who were preparing to become involved in their family foundations. They wanted to identify creative solutions to new challenges to Jewish communal life.
J'Burgh was selected because it found an innovative way to address a problem that is common to many Jewish communities, said Mr. Schneider, who praised the program for its flexibility and for leadership that stayed in close touch with the constituency.
"J'Burgh is a pretty small program compared to some others, but it could have among the biggest impacts on what Jewish life looks like for the future in Pittsburgh," he said.
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.