New L.A. guide spotlights top Jewish nonprofits

Amanda Maddahi, a 30-year-old, second-generation Iranian-American Jew, has made it her mission to address LGBT issues in Los Angeles’ Persian-Jewish community.

A year ago, she helped establish the Persian Pride Program at JQ International, a Los Angeles-based LGBT advocacy nonprofit. As its director of operations, Maddahi has helped develop and run an array of programming, including support groups, counseling, a panel series called “Out of Iran, Out of the Closet,” and a help line available six days a week for LGBT Persian Jews.

“What’s really innovative about this is that it didn’t exist,” Maddahi said. “It’s really addressing something that’s taboo in the community head on.”

If Maddahi had her way, the next phase would be expansion.  vBut the funds simply aren’t there yet.

“We get messages all the time from Persians in Boston and New York, saying, ‘When is it coming here?’ ” she said. 

Help might be on the way.

Slingshot, a New York-based nonprofit organization, has published its 12th annual list of 50 innovative organizations, projects and programs aimed at making an impact in the American-Jewish community. The guide is a popular resource for volunteers, activists and donors searching for ways to get involved with Jewish philanthropic causes. The group also released its first Los Angeles guide, spotlighting 26 of the city’s high-impact Jewish organizations. The Persian Pride program made it onto both lists. 

“This is one of the highest honors to date for us,” Maddahi, said. “We know the Slingshot guide features the most innovative nonprofits. To be included with all these amazing organizations is not only a dream but a beautiful reality.”

The complete national and Los Angeles guides can be found on Slingshot’s website,

The Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC) was featured for the third consecutive year. Its hip slate of programs for Eastsiders includes downtown pastrami walking tours, hootenanny community jam sessions and a cultural discussion series that recently featured Matthew Weiner, creator of the television drama “Mad Men.”

SIJCC’s development manager, Shannon Rubenstone, said that inclusion on the list helps validate the community-oriented approach to SIJCC’s programs and operations.

“Being named one of the nation’s most innovative Jewish organizations reaffirms for us that we’re doing good work,” she said. “We work closely with our community members to brainstorm programs, classes, workshops and events and will continue to involve the community in our programming decisions.”

With more than half of last year’s national guide featuring organizations either based or operating in California, Slingshot’s Executive Director Stefanie Rhodes figured it was time to publish regional guides for Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

“There are so many innovative things happening in Los Angeles’ Jewish community,” Rhodes said. “What’s happening with Jewish life in the Bay Area and Los Angeles is setting the pace for a lot of us right now. It’s a trend we’ve been noticing for years. The intersection of all of that made this year the right year to do California guides.”

Since its inception in 2005, Slingshot has highlighted more than 250 Jewish organizations through its guides. Rhodes estimated that each year, through the mailing of hard copies and online outreach, the guides reach up to 30,000 people across the country.

“We’ve heard tons of stories of people who learned about an organization from the guide and gave a gift or got involved because they saw them in Slingshot,” Rhodes said.

Slingshot’s pool of philanthropy foundation professionals, trustees and Jewish nonprofit experts judge applicant organizations based on innovation, impact and potential to grow in a community. A new wrinkle in this year’s evaluation, Rhodes said, was weighing life cycle — how long an organization has been in existence — and budget specifics, in an effort to level the playing field.

“When an organization is featured, it’s a sign that other funders have looked at it next to the criteria we’ve laid out and scored it highly in those areas,” Rhodes said. “For an organization, especially ones that are new to Jewish innovation and just starting out, it’s an excellent opportunity to get pooled in and gain exposure.”

Maddahi, whose program is entering its second year, said she is confident that inclusion in the guide offers more than just validation. It can also lead to new opportunities for the Persian Pride program.

“For us, being featured sheds light on the fact that this is a need within our community to address and we’re addressing it in a very innovative way,” she said. “This not only gives legitimacy to the work, it grants us exposure to potential opportunities to take this cause across the nation, even global.” 

Slingshot names top 50 Jewish innovators, plus 10

Slingshot added a Top 10 list to its newly released annual guide to innovative Jewish programming in North America.

A list of 10 top “standard bearers” was added to the annual list of the 50 “most inspiring and innovative organizations, projects, and programs in the North American Jewish community today” by Slingshot, a project of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.

The standard bearers are Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community; Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life; Hazon; Ikar;; Jewish Funds for Justice-Progressive Jewish Alliance; Mayyim Hayyim; Mechon Hadar; Reboot; and Sharsheret.

“These organizations are not just innovative, they’re pushing it every year,” Will Schneider, Slingshot’s director, told JTA in an interview. “They’re striving for relevancy every day.”

Both the standard bearers and the other 50 were judged according to four criteria: innovation, impact, strong leadership and organizational efficacy. The winners were chosen by a panel of foundation professionals after an application and nominations process.

This year’s Slingshot 50 are, in alphabetical order: Access-American Jewish Committee’s new generation program; BBYO PANIM Institute; Be’chol Lashon; Bible Raps, the Bronfman Youth Fellowships Alumni Venture Fund; Center Without Walls; Challah for Hunger; Diarna: Mapping Mizrahi Heritage; Eden Village Camp; Encounter; Gateways-Access to Jewish Education; G-dcast;; Hebrew SeniorLife Chaplaincy Institute; Hidden Sparks; Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneur & Senior Jewish Educator Initiative; Institute for Curriculum Services; the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues; Jewish Community Action-Foreclosure Prevention; The Jewish Education Project; Jewish Heart for Africa; Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn; Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation; Jewish Rock Radio; Jewish Teen Funders Network; and Judaism Your Way.

Also, the Kavana Cooperative; Kavanah Garden; Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs; Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Conference & Retreat Center; Keshet; Matan; Moishe House; Moving Traditions;; Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality;; the PresenTense Group; Project Chessed; Rabbis for Human Rights-North America; Repair the World; Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council; Rose Youth Foundation, an initiative of Rose Community Foundation; Seeds of Peace; Shalom Hartman Institute of North America; Shalom Sesame/Sesame Workshop; Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists; Teva Learning Alliance; Torch; Uri L’Tzedek; and Wilderness Torah.

“The capacity for 50 great organizations has grown over the years,” Schneider said. “It’s become extremely competitive to get in.”

50 Nifty Jewish Groups

Do the words “innovative” and “Jewish groups” seem like oxymorons? Not to the publishers of “Slingshot,” a new guidebook to the “50 most innovative Jewish groups in North America,” published by a division of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.

“Slingshot,” which is expected to be published annually, aims to showcase meaningful but often cash-strapped programs to philanthropists who can help fund them, with the goal of revitalizing North American Jewry.

After assembling recommendations from Jewish philanthropists, 25 foundation professionals who fund Jewish programs chose the final 50 groups based on their performance in innovation, impact, leadership and efficiency.

Slingshot’s supporters say backing the 50 groups is smart because these groups are already remaking the Jewish community.

“This is the low-risk, high-reward investment,” Jeffrey Solomon, the president of the Bronfman Philanthropies, said at a recent launch party in a crowded lounge on New York’s Lower East Side.

The organization that collected the most recommendations among the “innovative 50” is the American Jewish World Service. The group, which focuses on long-term economic projects in the developing world, has been at the forefront of aiding victims of the December 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.

According to the “Slingshot” preface, the challenges that American Jews face in 2005 stem from assimilation. Because Jews are not externally compelled to live Jewish lives, they must inspire each other internally to feel connected to the Jewish community.

Many of the guidebook’s picks are programs that blend Judaism with American culture and society, allowing participants to nurture each side of their American Jewish identities.

Some of the L.A.-based organizations that made it to the list include MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger; IKAR, a Jewish spiritual community that engages in the pursuit of social justice; and The Progressive Jewish Alliance, an organization dedicated to working for social and economic justice.

For a complete list, visit