Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Take a bite of an apple from the tree of music from Moishe House Philly's Mira Treatman

   It was a brutally cold Thursday night at Old City Coffee as locavorish arts appreciators piled into the forty seat house to see harp-centric power folk bands, Liz and the Lost Boys and Snow Caps. The show, co-sponsored by Café Olam and Moishe House Philadelphia, was in celebration of Tu B’shvat, the birthday of the trees. This celebration is quite relevant to Café Olam because of its mission as “a cultural space, rooted in Jewish ethics and social responsibility that will serve as a source of engagement for the Jewish and general community to help strengthen connections.” Honoring the living things in our world, or "olam" in Hebrew, is a very direct way of furthering environmental responsibility. The woman behind this organization is founder and Jewish non-profit guru, Laurel Klein. This was and is a major passion project that was developed further by the Tribe 12 Fellowship in 2011. In an effort to support this emerging Jewish organization, proceeds from the concert went to directly to Café Olam. Next steps for the organization are to secure a permanent home for on-sight beer brewing and to continue to bring young urban Jews together. Andrew Keller, singer-songwriter in Snow Caps remarked “…the fact that the show was a benefit really made me happy.  I wish Cafe Olam much success!”
          Moishe House, the second of the two organizations,  “(envisions itself) as the global leader of pluralistic Jewish life for adults in their twenties. (They) facilitate a wide range of experiences, so that they have the leadership, knowledge and community to enrich their Jewish journeys.” Philadelphia’s house, of which your author is a resident of, organizes at least seven events per month in exchange for a program budget, a rent subsidy, and other opportunities for professional and spiritual development. The concert at Old City Coffee is an example of a typical program in the sense that it celebrates a traditional festivity in an innovative way. It is unusual to an extent because it is an arts-focused event completely orchestrated by residents. Over the last nine months, Moishe House Philly has increasingly organized arts events both at their home and at local venues such as the National Museum of American Jewish History and The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. One house show even featured Snow Caps, which was so very exciting!      

       Keller and his band mates, Spencer Carrow, Yianni Kourmadas, Darian Scatton, and Roger Martinez opened the show with a set of original songs featuring lush string arrangements for harp and guitar and warm clarinet parts that were fittingly modal, neurotic, and introspective. Snow Caps as a full band often sounded nostalgic like twenty first century sea-faring pirate types sailing down Baltimore Avenue. Particularly haunting refrains stood out throughout the set, notably in Snow Caps' finale song. Keller sang "make it sing, make it sing, sing a thing, make it sing" as Martinez echoed enigmatically with a wistful, rising clarinet.  At times the songs sound like regal court dances while others get down with a funky stomp driving fast-paced lyrics. Harmonic complexity reigns throughout. Keller reflected, “It was a treat to perform at Old City Coffee.  We were overwhelmed by the amount of people there, and everyone in the audience was very attentive and patient, even between songs.  It was also nice to see some fresh faces.  I knew a few people, but most of the audience was seeing Snow Caps for the first time.  I also just think it's really great that there is a Jewish holiday to celebrate trees.” The fresh faces Keller mentioned are new to his music most likely because they heard of the event through its promotion by the two Jewish organizations.

       Liz Ciavolino, singer-songwriter of Liz and the Lost Boys, is no stranger to the Jewish community. She reflected “I don't feel like an outsider in Jewish communities too often. My dad's side of the family is Jewish and so I grew up around some Jewish culture. My aunt and uncle lead a klezmer band for a long time and I celebrated a handful of Jewish holidays. Though I'm not practicing, I definitely see it as part of my heritage and I enjoy participating in it. This event in particular was very welcoming and supportive.” Ciavolino also shared that some of her songs even contain biblical themes. She “grew up in a Christian home… and attended church weekly for (her) entire childhood, memorized a lot of scripture, and sang lots of hymns.  It's still a part of who (she is) and always will be.” One of her songs even has a few explicit Old Testament references. She continued, “Since I grew up with it from an early age, biblical references have a strong, deep meaning for me.
        Liz and the Lost Boys features Ciavolino on lead vocals and harp with mostly original songs composed with a mathy, jazz influence with sprinkles of heartache mixed in mostly on harp minus the uber-feminine angel imagery. This is clearly evidenced in a medley with a working title “Whole Tone/Unravel” composed on a twelve-tone scale that boasts the lyrics “only a good man can break your heart and only the best ones will leave a star”. In addition to her harp and piano driven songwriting, one of Liz’s other signatures is that her band of lost boys is constantly evolving. They are often literally quite lost. Performing this time were Dane Galloway and Joel Sephy of My Son Bison, Will Wright and Matt Scarano.  This particular iteration of the band was especially tight. Wright on bass and Galloway on guitar were really playing with each other and seemed to be very conscious of how their intricate parts drove the songs together. Liz, sporting a gamine but powerful pixie cut, is the diva. 

       So what made this show Jewish other than the sponsoring organizations? What was the connection between the music performances and the holiday Tu B’shvat? The point illustrated by this concert and other similar programming from Café Olam and Moishe House, is that the Jewishness of youthful community gatherings should be constantly evolving. While this is not completely true for all members of the young Jewish community, a significant handful does value innovation in programming and observance over tradition. For example, at a recent Moishe House event co-sponsored by LGBTQ Jewish group Spectrum Philly, event participants openly talked about their frustrations with the typical Jewish singles events and how alienating they can be. How is the future of Judaism going to work if every single self-identifying Jew isn’t one-hundred per cent included? The artistic and social success of this concert is a testament to the fact that young Jews today can both celebrate a very traditional holiday, Tu B’shvat, while also celebrating the breadth of sub-identities within “Jewish”.
      To learn more about Café Olam, check out To stay up to date with Moishe House Philadelphia events, connect with the calendar and social media through Snow Caps albums can be listened to and purchased here Their album “Baby Bird” is sold out, but the stellar “Moonbreak” is still available! Liz and the Lost Boys, who are releasing a new album in June, have music here The host venue for this concert was coffee roaster and café, Old City Coffee. For information about beans and treats, happenings and tastings check

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Moishe Kavod House - Marjorie Corbman

Moving into a Moishe House was not my first time living in an intentional community, but it was
the first time I had lived in a Jewish community. Moishe Kavod House in Boston is particularly
devoted to its social justice work, and I was very excited about exploring the connections between
social justice, community, and my practice of Judaism.

One of the interesting aspects of this overlap has been the ways in which I now think of social
justice work in terms of our community’s Jewish identity. Moishe House has been very important
for me in terms of learning to ask the question of not only what work I want to do, but what would
be best and most powerful for a community of young Jews in Boston to take on.

The most exciting project I have been able to be a part of in my four months so far living in this
community has been in helping to begin a conversation in our community about racial justice and
our Jewish identities. The effort to create this conversation began after a member of our community
brought in a speaker in late October who encouraged us to think about the ways in which white
supremacy, defined by Sharon Martinas and Mickey Ellinger as “an historically based, institutionally
perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by
white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of establishing, maintaining
and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege” manifests itself in our own work for social

We are a largely white-dominant Jewish community, with the power and privilege which come with
that identity, and the justice “issues” around which we organize often disproportionately affect
people of color. This brings up a number of questions for us as we confront systemic racism in our
community. How can those (like myself) of white, Ashkenazi Jewish background work towards
making our community a safer space for Jews of color? How can a white-dominant community
(as it is now) begin to think about being allies in struggles led by people of color? There are other,
specific questions which confront us as Jews: what does “whiteness” mean to Ashkenazi Jews when,
a hundred years ago, European Jews were not always considered “white”? How do the ways we
often talk about Jewish immigration to the US from Europe as being part of the “American dream”
marginalize Jews of non-European descent, or ignore the fact that the land many of our ancestors
immigrated to was forcibly taken from indigenous peoples who are still fighting for their rights to it?
What is the historical relationship of anti-Semitism to racism and Islamophobia today? What would
it mean for us to approach Jewish history and Jewish texts through an anti-racist lens?

We will be addressing these and many other questions through a series of discussions and trainings
at our house throughout the coming year, and, we hope, beyond that. I am most excited about
the ways in which we can bring this conversation into all of the other work that we do—so that
we would not as a community be able to have an event about housing justice, or food equity, or
environmental sustainability, or a parsha study or Jewish holiday, without at some point discussing
how racial justice and anti-racism relate to the topic.

This is just one example of how living in a community which is both dedicated to its Jewish identity
and to social justice has helped me to think about ways in which our particular communal and

religious identities relate to larger issues of justice and equity. I am very excited to have these
conversations to continue and to help foster more of the Jewish community I want to see in the

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Moishe House Hoboken - Samantha Vinokor

For over twenty years, from the time that I was born, until the day that I graduated from college, I found that I had a spot carved for me within the Jewish community. Many of the various positions that I found myself in were handed to me, as well as many others: student, bat mitzvah. Others I created for myself, many of these being leadership positions that I worked for: youth group president, Hillel leader, Israel
advocate. Still, all of the roles that I had up until the time that I graduated from college existed within a pre-established environment, one that had a structure, a leadership, and a clearly defined place in the greater Jewish community.

Upon graduation, I was thrust into the role of young professional, an arena of the Jewish community that has not yet been fully defined. My involvement in the Jewish community at this stage of my life has been twofold, as I have chosen to pursue a career as a Jewish professional, and continue to participate in the Jewish community on a personal level as well. Given these dual roles, I have had to figure out how to create a Jewish identity that includes my personal and professional pursuits, and allows me to find fulfillment in both arenas. Key to this goal has been my search for a community that I can relate to and share my Jewish experiences with.

Becoming a part of the Moishe House community in Hoboken, and particularly becoming a resident of the house, has provided me with the opportunity to be a key member of the development of a Jewish community that provides a place of comfort and familiarity for people to explore their Judaism and connect with it in a positive way. My involvement with Moishe House has given me the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of people, each of whom comes from a different background, and for who Judaism and the Jewish people has a different meaning and significance. Moishe House gives all of us the opportunity to come together in a pluralistic, open way, as Jews, for the shared goal of creating a community in which we can all be comfortable to explore ourselves, our beliefs, and our bonds to Judaism.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Jews Contributing to Music NOW, From Moishe House Philly's Mira Treatman

Jews Contributing to Music NOW and in a BIG way, From Moishe House Philly's Mira Treatman  

As a show promoter and booker in Philadelphia, I am constantly hunting for artists to work with. Along the way, I've come across musicians who also happen to be Jewish. The following are my picks for Moishe House residents and community members to support potentially because they are not only creating cutting edge recordings and performances, but also stand for more than just entertainment value. Across the board, they're single-handedly defining contemporary Judaism for themselves as they see fit. They may not all be particularly Jewish artists in their work, however they're certainly not hiding this part of their identity per se. For one, I do not personally know any of these artists and yet I can confirm that they're all at least Jewish-identifying in some way. Many of the people on this list manifest their Jewish backgrounds in very subtle, almost sexy ways, for example Amy Klein has casually written a song called "Jacob's Ladder" just because she can. This list represents DIY Judaism at its finest.

Judd Greenstein, one of the three co-directors of New Amsterdam Records, is an award-winning, self-described indie-classical composer based in Brooklyn. Not only the creator of contemporary, relevant composed music, Greenstein also promotes his comrades such as Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), Annie Clark (St. Vincent), and Merrill Garbus (Tune-Yards), among others. He is curator of the Ecstatic Music Festival, an annual event which brings together seemingly disparate artists to create incredible, moving collaborations. Most Jewish in his list of accomplishments is Greenstein's Six Points Fellowship where he spent a year composing the full-length work, Solomon, which was performed by a group he assembled called Yehudim. To learn more about this fellowship, check out

Amy Klein, also known as Amy Rebecca Klein, also known as the front woman of Leda and Hilly Eye, also known as the unofficial founder of Permanent Wave, also known as the former guitarist of Titus Andronicus, is a goddess in Jewish feminism today. Educated, brilliant, talented, literary, and loud, Amy has accomplished so much in her twenty-seven years, including the unofficial founding of Permanent Wave. This non-wave feminist arts collective seeks to "challenge gender inequality as it manifests itself in art, politics, and personal lives." It was inspired in part by violence against women in Amy's immediate environment, in addition to the inequality between men and women in the music industry. Since its founding in late 2010, Permanent Wave has spread from New York to the San Francisco Bay, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, and even Omaha, Nebraska. A hallmark of Permanent Wave is the organization of music shows featuring all female-identifying, queer, people of color, and youth performers.

Mirah, born Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn in Philadelphia, is a singer-songwriter known for writing classic works on K Records in the Pacific Northwest during the golden age of lady rock. While at Evergreen State, Mirah began a fruitful collaboration with Phil Elvrum of Mt. Eerie/The Microphones releasing early solo albums with songs such as "The Garden", "Nobody Has to Stay", "Jerusalem", and "Don't Die in Me". More recently, Mirah has released an incredible collaborative music effort with Thao Nguyen of the insanely popular WNYC Radiolab national tour. An icon in the making known for rocking short Betty Page bangs and kimono tops, Mirah will certainly be remembered for being a cult musical diva as well as the Leonard Cohen of her generation. She was definitely born with the Jewish, eloquent literati gene. 

 Alicia Jo Rabins is a musician, poet, Torah scholar, mother, and slightly obscure folk-rock star based in Brooklyn and Portland. I first heard of her music in the form of her masters thesis (in Jewish Womens Studies at JTS no less) turned band Girls in Trouble. That same year her all-Jewish record label, JDub, unsurprisingly went under. This record label really had no chance at succeeding unfortunately, but at least their artists are still chugging along and releasing work. As a poet, Rabins has been published in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, 6x6, Court Green, anthologies from NYU Press and Knopf, and Artscape Press. Like Judd Greenstein, Alicia Jo is also a recent Six Points Fellow who created "an experimental rock opera about the spiritual implications of the current financial crisis, examining the figure of Bernard Madoff (and the system he represents) through the lens of rabbinic Jewish texts about financial ethics, the meaning of wealth, and the inevitability of cycles." 

              Schmekel is now not only Yiddish for "tiny penis", but also is the name of the first queer Jewcore band ever. Based in Brooklyn, Nogga Schwartz, Ricky Riot, Lucian Kahn, and Simcha Halpert-Hanson are a quartet of transgendered Jews who pen songs about their experiences in a very borscht belt, bathroom humor sort of way. Their songs celebrate their bar mitzvahs, which has been a major marketing tool in their journey (you can buy a t-shirt that says "I survived Schmekel's Bar Mitzvah"), which I find hilarious and really poignant. When the musicians in Schmekel were thirteen, they had Bat Mitzvot, which was not the correct prefix for any of their Mitzvot, then or now. The reason this band is on this list is because of the grace with which Schmekel unapologetically owns their trans and Jewish identities with a strong sense of humor. Schmekel shows are never a pity party or an angst-ridden fest, they always capture the authentic, loud, jubilant personalities of the band mates. 

Are you an amazing Jewish contributor to music today too? Are you not on this very short list? Please holler at me, or challah at me if that's easier, and I'll gladly book you in Philly! In a perfect world, my Moishe House would, can, and has definitely doubled as a welcoming yet cutting edge house show venue.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Moishe House Pittsburgh - Naomi Fireman

Moving to Pittsburgh has been a new experience, starting graduate school has been a new experience, and starting a new experience with Moishe House Pittsburgh has been the experience that has granted me with the most comfort, warmth and amity.

Everyone knows that being a newbie is as tiring as it is exhilarating, but in the Moishe House I have only felt feelings of kinship and companionability. The Moishe House of Pittsburgh has an interesting mélange of a community that includes determined graduate, medical, business and law students, passionate young Jewish professionals, and brilliant professionals in all fields. Our home has become a space for all young Jews to come, hang out, step out of their everyday routine and meet like-minded individuals.

‘Shabbrunch’, Shabbat Brunch, has become a regular event in Moishe House Pittsburgh that is my personal favorite and offers a micro view of what community the Moishe House of Pittsburgh is creating. The preparation of Shabbrunch, bustling around the kitchen with my housemates, baking, cooking and preparing the bagels and lox is a huge portion of the Shabbrunch enjoyment. There is a uniqueness in putting in the planning and logistics for an event that brings the house together. However the uniqueness of Moishe House can be seen during Shabbrunch. We gather for Kiddush, acknowledging Shabbat, and then begin our lazy Shabbrunch. The den will most likely have a football game playing, the dining room full of schmoozing, the kitchen supplying more nourishment and the conversations in constant flow. This is in many ways my ideal Shabbat – relaxing and conversing with new friends. I am thankful to Moishe House for granting me this opportunity, and grateful that we have the opportunity to open up the House to the community and welcome people in for Shabbrunch!

MHP - Cody Greenes - Community

Moishe House residency is awesome. I love it. We, as a house, create our ideal Jewish community.  And that means it's fluid. It's the residents' own personalities that feed each house.

Residency isn't easy, no. But where else can four very different (or, very similar, for that matter- depends on the house) young people collaborate on, create and support their ideal anything? If there's a job like that, please, let me know. For now, I'll take my career with a side of Moishe.

As I started my third year here in MHP, I thought I was fairly settled in. I've been able to create, plan and host events that were meaningful to me (tikkun olam, rec league sports, sukkah-building), and supported our more 'mainstream' events- holiday meals, shabbat potlucks, Torah study and game or movie nights. But we started Fall 2012 a little different. 3 new roomies, and each pretty new to the Philly Jewish community.

I made the mistake- from which I have taken valuable lessons- to push on and assume it was Moishe-as-usual. Oops. What'd I say earlier? Fluid. Why weren't we working together as well? Why did some feel lost or disconnected with the mission and, really, where was that family feeling I'd grown to love? I won't drag this out, especially because it's probably obvious. You can't fit people into pre-existing models. Moishe House residents can share their individual passions with the community, but it really should start with each other. Then you get that big a-ha moment. Plus, honestly, that warm fuzzy feeling moment, too. I love watching a fellow resident introduce an evening's event, share their interest and glow as the event comes together.

We hosted an arts salon a few months ago. It took awhile to explain the idea to me, because I had no idea what that was. And honestly, I was hesitant- yes, excitedly curious, too- until the artists came a couple hours prior to the start of the event. I knew immediately that these were my type of people. Sure, uninvolved in the Jewish community, but friendly, giving, full of love and ready to share their passions with others. And that's an awesome part of our community- willingness and desire to share one's passion with others.

Friday, November 30, 2012

MHDC - Sarah Waxman

From Russia with Nothing but Thanks and a Vision

Every morning for the past several months I have diligently written down something for which I am grateful. Without a doubt, my most common theme is appreciation for my freedom. One glance at a Jewish history book, or one conversation with my grandparents reminds me that I enjoy a greater degree of freedom than any of my ancestors. I have had more education, opportunities, and expressions of religious freedom in my 26 years than almost any Jewish person in history. Most recently, in Moscow, I was reminded what that freedom truly looks like, and what responsibilities and necessary actions come with the privilege.

On July 1st as I embarked for my trip to Russia my morning gratitude note read: “I am grateful for Moishe House for helping to fund my upcoming adventure with the American Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) young professional trip to Moscow. I was one of 13 20-somethings headed to Moscow to learn about Jewish life in Russia and the work the JDC does there. The JDC is the largest international Jewish humanitarian aid service. Established in 1914, it has saved Jews around the world and provided essential aid to ensure their survival. As a group, we spent a little over a week exploring the city, making home visits to the elderly, visiting summer camps, and most importantly engaging with our Russian peers. (It was a total blast! This is my plug to check out other Entwine trips (add link), and knock on Moishe House’s door when you have Jewish learning you want to do!)

Some important background on modern Russian Jewry: During the Soviet era, the practice of Judaism was completely forbidden. For centuries before that, Jews had been subject to often-violent repression: ghettos were created, pogroms periodically swept Jewish areas, and Jews had few rights. Under the Soviets, repression became smothering. Jews were not allowed to congregate or engage in religious practice, and in the wake of the Holocaust many Soviet Jews decided it was far safer to bury any tie to Judaism. Other than a special note on your passport declaring you Jewish, no Shabbat candles were light, no Passover seders observed, and no Jewish summer camps were created. (What, no summer camp?! I am completely grateful for my Jewish summer camp.)

One afternoon, we broke into small groups and made home visits to elderly Jews receiving JDC’s care. We visited Elena in her 75-square-foot apartment – an apartment she had shared with her parents before they passed away. Elena’s parents were from Hungry and had escaped the Nazis by finding refuge in Russia. After a lovely conversation about her life, Elena mentioned it was her birthday. We immediately broke into a warm “yom huledit sameach” song. This was the first time Elena had ever heard the Hebrew language, and she had us sing it twice more. As we were leaving she said: “I hope the authorities don’t arrest me for this visit, but it was worth it to meet you.” Of course, she was recalling a darker time not so long ago, but nonetheless, my note the following morning read: I am grateful for my ancestors’ courage to leave their families and homes here in the hope of finding a better and freer life in the United States. Their bravery allowed me to be free.

Over the course of our trip, many experiences reminded me of my gratitude for my freedoms as an American. Quite surprisingly, I also found myself questioning my role and my own dedication to my Jewish community. I was struck by the realization that the young people I met were the very first Russian Jews to be free. They now consume Jewish knowledge like sponges, and are more educated than their parents and grandparents in Judaism. They are truly leaders in their communities -- not just for their peers, but also for their parents, and future generations. It was fascinating to talk with people at the Moishe House Moscow’s gathering (woot, woot, Moishe House Moscow!), or at the many dinners we shared with others our age. They are doing groundbreaking work and giving back to their communities -- what my ancestors did for me when they left the region. I was left with the question, “What am I doing now, to help my future generations live freely and expressively?”

We were able to witness and help lead 25 students in their first Shabbat as they embarked for their Birthright trip. It was astonishing and inspiring to see these young people take an interest in their lost heritage and traditions. My morning note on July 6th read: “I am grateful I was able to be a positive role model as somebody who is comfortable in her skin as a Jew and in her spiritual self. Many times in my
life, I have looked to other people as role models, and today I was able to be one.”

Another fascinating and very real discovery is that in a post-Communist society like Russia, the notion of “volunteering” is rather complicated. As an American Jew, the practice of Tikkun Olam, or service work, is one of the core ways in which I express my Judaism. But in a society in which until recently
all “volunteering” was actually mandated and any other “community service work” was banned, the notion of the voluntary repairing of the world is novel. But it is important that it become embedded as a value in Jewish consciousness. “We were slaves once, and now we are free.” It is the duty of all Jews who have reached that place of freedom to learn to give back, both to the global Jewish community (as the JDC does) and to our Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors.

It is my hope that as Moishe House expands it will create more of a platform for international  communication and community building within the houses and the communities we serve. I hope many residents can be energized and inspired (as I was) by experiencing the work being done in Russia by our peers to cultivate Jewish life in their own communities, so that Judaism can exist the way we want it to for our future generations. Lastly, I hope that as inheritors of the freedoms and privileges that American Jews enjoy, we can be active role models and lead by our actions in religious communities as well as in our dedication to Tikkun Olam.