New UpStart groups blaze trail of Jewish innovation


Elana Naftalin-Kelman

UpStart Bay Area, the S.F.-based nonprofit that supports up-and-coming Jewish social entrepreneurs, welcomed three new groups into its cohort this month, while transitioning five current UpStarter organizations to “alumni” status — meaning they’ve proven to be sustainable organizations on their own. The new groups cover a wide scope of interests.

Come and Listen! is a radio show/podcast that features commentary and interviews with emerging Jewish thought leaders, geared toward young adults. Co-founders and sisters Alyssa Kapnik and Hannah Kapnik Ashar (an S.F.-based reporter-photographer and a Boulder, Colo.–based Jewish educator and doula, respectively) serve as hosts, in a style of dialogue they describe as “Car Talk” meets “This American Life.” Episodes so far have included “Love and Death,” “Sexuality and Gender” and “Language and Law.”

Alyssa Kapnik and Hannah Kapnik Ashar

Rosh Pina, founded by Elana Naftalin-Kelman, is aimed at making Jewish institutions more welcoming, inclusive and accessible to those with special needs; the nonprofit will help organizations make that happen through a yearlong program. Naftalin-Kelman, a Berkeley resident who co-developed the education program Edah, has worked in special education and Jewish education for more than 15 years and directs the special-needs program at Camp Ramah in Ojai.

Jlens, founded by Julie Hammerman, is a San Francisco–based nonprofit that seeks to promote “impact investing” in the Jewish community, helping investors select industries or companies to support in a way that incorporates Jewish values — particularly around social and environmental justice — with an emphasis on Israel. Hammerman, who has served on the boards of the ADL and the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council, has extensive experience in finance and social enterprise, having advised families as well as Fortune 500 companies on socially responsible investing.

Julie Hammerman

These groups, described by UpStart CEO Toby Rubin as “creative social entrepreneurs [who] are reimagining and expanding Jewish life,” join continuing UpStarters Urban Adamah, A Wider Bridge, The Kitchen, Ketuv and Edah.



The organizations transitioning into alumni status are Fair Trade Judaica, G-dcast, Kevah, Moishe House and Wilderness Torah.  They will continue to be part of the “UpStart family,” receiving support and acting as mentors for current UpStarters, said Rubin.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.