The Jewish Federations of North America today announced the five finalists in its controversial Jewish Community Heroes Awards — and while 12 of the 20 semi-finalists are Lubavitchers, only two of the finalists are associated with the movement.
They are Devora Benjamin, who raises funds for weddings for lower-income Jewish couples in Crown Heights, and Levi Shemtov, who founded an organization that provides mentors to children with special needs.
Chabad’s dominance in the contest’s semi-final round made the initiative a target for some critics.
The other three finalists are Yonah Bookstein, the executive rabbi of JConnectLA, an outreach and networking organization for young Jewish professionals; Ari Teman, the founder of the Jewish service group JCorps, and Shmuly Yanklowitz, the founder of Uri L’Tzedek, which promotes the ethical treatment of kosher industry workers.
After hundreds of nominees were whittled down to 20 in an online poll, a panel of judges picked the five finalists. The winner, who will be announced November 9 at JFNA’s General Assembly, will receive a $25,000 grant from the federations’ umbrella group.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.