News and analysis
December 12, 2014

Innovative Jewish Groups in D.C. Make a Pitch to Broaden Support

Courtesy of the Washington Hebrew Congregation

At Metro Minyan, a Jewish prayer group in Washington, D.C., young professionals gather for hour-long services, followed by dinner and socializing. Gifts from area philanthropists subsidize some of the cost of the monthly event.

The fourth Friday evening of every month begins with a "shot of Torah" and a glass of scotch for up to 250 Jewish marketing experts, lobbyists, policymakers, and other professionals under age 40 who gather at a Washington church near a subway stop.

The service, which begins just after 6 p.m., is led by 31-year-old Rabbi Aaron Miller, who came up with the idea. Following the hour-long service, the group sits down for dinner, ordered from a nearby restaurant, and listens to music. Then they head to a nearby bar to continue socializing.

Metro Minyan, as the lively prayer group is called, is made possible by donations from area philanthropists whose gifts make it possible for Rabbi Miller to charge young professionals $10 in advance, or $15 at the door, when the true cost is closer to $40 per person. The monthly service is the flagship program in Rabbi Miller’s efforts to serve young Jews at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, where he works, and in the surrounding community.

Metro Minyan is one of five nonprofit programs featured this weekend at a new event that seeks to raise the profile of Washington-area nonprofits that have adopted innovative approaches to aspects of Jewish life.

At the three-hour gathering, Rabbi Miller and officials from each of the other four organizations will give short presentations to a group of 150 local foundation officials and philanthropists. The audience, all attending by invitation only, will then vote on what portion of a $65,000 grant to award to each group.

The money is being donated by the Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies, a Washington umbrella group for a handful of family foundations.

Whether the event is a success won’t actually be known until well after it’s over, organizers say. That’s because the primary goal is to attract new donors and volunteers to the five programs and causes represented, as well as 13 other Jewish organizations.

Information on all the 18 organizations is included in a new book published by Slingshot, a nonprofit that publicizes innovative Jewish organizations in cities across North America.

Along with Friedman Philanthropies, Slingshot is co-sponsoring the Sunday event at a Washington-area synagogue. Representatives from Jewish foundations in Philadelphia and Boston were among those planning to attend, to see if they might copy the event in their own cities.

"We are having this event to build excitement around these organizations and get the donor community to engage in Jewish life," says Simone Friedman, executive director of Friedman Philanthropies. "A lot of exciting things are happening, but not a lot of people know about them."

To further publicize the Jewish organizations, she adds, Friedman Philanthropies mailed about 2,000 gift cards, each one good for a $15 donation, to area residents on Slingshot’s mailing lists, as well as to people recommended by the Jewish organizations and others who helped with the project. The gift cards can be used to make a donation to any of the organizations featured in the Slingshot book.

Copies of the book will be distributed to those attending the Sunday event.

"People will get multiple copies if they want," says Will Schneider, Slingshot’s executive director. "The idea of test driving this event comes from getting calls from funders who want to give or charities that want grants. This event is about answering their need."

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.