Open House?


There was a fascinating story two weeks ago by Sue Fishkoff about a new project called Moishe House, a network of subsidized homes for Jews in their 20s who are committed to building a Jewish community with their peers. In exchange for hosting eight to 12 events a month, making weekly reports and maintaining a website, three or four Jews receive a rent subsidy of up to $2,500 for a month, plus $500 for programming. Funding comes from The Forest Foundation, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based philanthropy run by a 25-year-old executive director, David Cygielman.

While they all host regular Shabbat meals, the houses aren’t restricted to hosting only Jewish-themed events. The houses in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example, host a lot of poker parties and film nights, while the Boston house focuses more on social action.

“I won’t tell them what’s a wrong or a right program,” Cygielman says. “I don’t care, so long as they’re building community and lots of people are coming.”

As anyone who’s been involved in Jewish communal life for even a short period of time knows, the 20-something demographic is the toughest etrog to crack. They’re not under their parents’ roof, like kids and teenagers, they’re not clustered in high-density locations, like college students, and they don’t require services like preschool or Hebrew school, like young parents. Not only are they hard to find, it’s hard to determine what concrete benefits they will receive from engaging in the Jewish community.

But one need that every 20-something has–one that I certainly had not that long ago–was making social connections. Post-college life is a dramatic change from college living; you go from spending 20 hours a week in class and socializing every day and night with roommates, classmates and friends to spending 50 hours a week working, and seeing friends only on the weekends (and that’s if you’re lucky enough to end up in a city where you know some people). People in their 20s hunger for social opportunities, and the Moishe House model is a way of providing them with that.

As the article suggests, the Moishe Houses are in some ways a recreation of Hillel houses, Chabad houses and Jewish frats in a post-campus environment. The difference is, where those organizations had to compete with dozens of other interest-oriented social clubs and communal homes, the Moishe Houses have the field of communal post-collegiate housing almost to themselves. That’s an opportunity.

So how does this relate to interfaith families?

While the culture of Hillel houses differs significantly from one campus to another, we have heard numerous stories of children of interfaith families–especially students whose mothers weren’t Jewish–getting the cold shoulder at Hillel houses. And certainly Chabad houses have their own strict traditional agenda. So while college is such a formative time in young adults’ identities, some interfaith kids leave college feeling rejected by the most visible organs of Jewish community they know.

The Moishe Houses could be a golden opportunity to engage or re-engage these interfaith kids at a time in their lives when they may not see any visible signs of Jewish community. I don’t know what the Moishe Houses’ policies are on interfaith kids, and I emailed them yesterday. Stay tuned.

Let’s hope that they’re not missing the opportunity to remind children of interfaith families how the Jewish community can be warm, spiritually rewarding and yes, even fun.

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