J'Burgh named a top national innovator for Jewish networking

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

An organization that builds networks among young adults in Pittsburgh can call itself one of the country's most innovative Jewish groups.

J'Burgh is to be included in the 2012-13 Slingshot Guide, an annual list of 50 forward-thinking organizations published by the Slingshot Fund, a New York-based nonprofit. This is the first time a Pittsburgh group made the list. The guide started in 2005.

“These are the organizations that are making Jewish life relevant today,” said Slingshot director Will Schneider.

About 190 groups applied to be in the guide. The third time was the charm for J'Burgh.

“It's a huge honor,” said David Katz, 30, director of the five-year-old initiative of Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh. “It's one thing to be recognized in Pittsburgh. It's another thing to be recognized nationally.”

J'Burgh, based in Oakland, formed in 2007 with support from Shalom Pittsburgh and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. Its mission is to use Judaism to engage the city's about 2,500 Jewish graduate students and young professionals and help keep them in Pittsburgh.

Loosely modeled after a Jewish young-adult group in Seattle, J'Burgh found a way to connect to twentysomethings in Pittsburgh. That included social and communal components and job and internship opportunities, said Aaron Weil, executive director of Hillel JUC.

“Engaging young Jewish adults isn't a problem unique just to Pittsburgh,” Weil said. “It's a problem in every community in the country.”

Schneider said J'Burgh can serve as a model for those communities.

“This is a problem sitting right in front of our faces, and J'Burgh offers a simple solution,” he said.

J'Burgh attracted about 900 people this year to its programs, many designed around social functions such as softball and kickball games, happy hour gatherings and Friday night dinners. It holds events five or six nights a week.

But more than the organization's ability to draw people to its functions helped it gain recognition. J'Burgh connected young Jewish adults on a scale that had not happened before, Schneider said.

“It's not because J'Burgh had a great bowling night,” he said. “It's what you do and what the change in the world is because of it. That's what J'Burgh does: It changes Jewish life in Pittsburgh.”

J'Burgh faces challenges, including sustaining its growth and providing depth to complement the breadth of its programming, its leaders said.

“We need to develop leadership for the future of the community,” Katz said. “It's very important that J'Burgh takes people in their early 20s and then passes them on to other organizations as active leaders in the Jewish community.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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