The arm of Hillel Jewish University Center that reaches out to Pittsburgh’s 2,500 Jewish graduate students and young professionals is a top contender for a GreatNonprofits Jewish Choice Award, and is poised to be a model for like organizations both nationally and internationally.
J’Burgh, supported by both Shalom Pittsburgh and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, brings together Jewish graduate students and young professionals to build community, celebrate Judaism and network for professional opportunities and development.
At the time this story went to press, J’Burgh had garnered enough positive reviews from its supporters to place it in the lead for the award of “Top Rated Jewish Non-Profit in the Northeast Region,” in the category of nonprofits with operating budgets below $250,000.
Hillel JUC, at press time, was in first place among all Hillels worldwide in the GreatNonprofits contest.
GreatNonprofits, a two-year-old Web-based company, offers competitions among various types of organizations in order to “provide a resource for the
nonprofit community to help them get the word out about the work they’re doing, and to gain exposure for potential donors,” said Shari Ilsen, director of marketing for GreatNonprofits.
Each nonprofit is judged by the number of positive online reviews it receives from those affiliated with the organization.
Not only will winners of the competition be rewarded by media exposure provided by GreatNonprofits, but they also will benefit from the feedback the reviews provide, said David Katz, director of J’Burgh.
“The real point is to get feedback and to share that information with donors,” Katz said. “But the most exciting thing is to see J’Burgh’s logo on the front page of GreatNonprofits’ Web site.”
Katz described J’Burgh as “trend-bucking” in the Jewish nonprofit world, successfully engaging a tough demographic, Jews in the 21- to 29-year-old range.
While Jewish programming for college-age students is generally successful, as is outreach to young married couples, “the post-college, pre-marriage demographic is a gray area where they’re getting lost,” Katz said.
J’Burgh is modeled on a similarly successful organization in Seattle, J-Connect, Katz said. But outside of Seattle and Pittsburgh, this type of outreach to the 20-something Jews is rare.
“Even in New York City, we haven’t seen anything like J’Burgh,” said Katz.
Last year, J’Burgh served more than 600 individuals, and hopes to engage 900 this year, with various programming running five or six nights a week. The programming includes participation by several teams in the Pittsburgh Sports League, a monthly minyan and potluck Shabbat dinner, and J-Course, a sort of “mini-Melton school for our demographic,” Katz said.
“The 20-somethings in our community are coming alive,” said Aaron Weil, executive director of Hillel JUC. “J-Burgh is at the cutting edge of programming for 20-somethings worldwide.”
In fact A B’nai B’rith chapter in Luxembourg, a tiny nation in western Europe, has asked for J’Burgh’s strategic plan to be used as a model for a like organization there.
Hillel International has identified Pittsburgh as one of only four hub cities in the United States that seems to be attracting scores of young Jews. The other cities recognized were San Francisco, Seattle, and New York.
“Twenty-somethings are craving community,” Weil said, “and they are finding it here.”
Weil believes Pittsburgh will continue to be attractive to young Jews as high-tech job opportunities increase here, noting also that funding from the JHF and the United Jewish Federation provides excellent resources, such as the Maimonidies Society and fellowships for Jewish medical students.
Voting for the Jewish Choice Awards continues through Oct. 31 at greatnonprofits.org.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)