What does your house do when someone shows up to a program who doesn't know anyone? What processes do you have for integrating newcomers into your community and making them feel welcome?
The great thing about Moishe House is that it's pretty informal compared to alternative organized Jewish community events. Moishe House participants like that they can just walk into their friend's house and kick back for a movie night or a poker night. They also know that they can experience Judaism with a friendly community in an authentic and self-directed way.
If a newcomer is walking in our door, chances are that we've spoken briefly over email, phone, or facebook. This immediately gives us residents an opportunity to acknowledge our new friend and ask them questions about what we may already know about them from past communications, however breif, or what we'd still like to know.
Just as our mothers taught us, we also usually have the immediate opportunity to offer them food, drink, and a seat, since those are involved in pretty much all of our events. :) Because Portlanders tend to share interests, whether it's environmentalism, activism, Jewish pride, or just appreciating Portland for it's lovely greenness and fun atmosphere, we also appreciate the opportunity to make connections between our friends. For example, our new friend Bella walks in, and after we've greeted her and offered her a beverage or snack, we could say something like, "Bella, I've been wanting you to meet my friend, Mark, because he's really into sports marketing as well and has played hockey for 5 years." Introducing others to each other and adding a little bit about each of them when you introduce gives each person an opportunity to easily start a conversation themselves. Ie: "Bella, meet my friend Mark, who works for the Oregonian in the sports section. Mark, Bella is new to Portland and she's pursuing a career in journalism."
A couple weeks ago Portland Moishe House had a brain-storming session with some of our most involved participants. We came up with new programs and identified which programs and approaches had been successful. We also considered what being successful in terms of Moishe House means. It created a great dialogue among a dozen of our friends, and we learned a lot. We hope to hold these little brainstorming over dinner sessions once every couple months, so we can get continuous feedback from a diverse sample within our demographic.
After the event, us housemates were marveling to each other about how we couldn't believe so-and-so didn't already know so-and-so. Living in Moishe House, which really is a social hub for many Jewish young adults, puts us, the residents, in a position where we have a broad index of who comes here. Having this mental index of who comes and why gives us the opportunity to make connections. Jobs, dates, roommates, weddings, and all sorts of connections have come simply from Jews meeting each other at Moishe House in Portland, in cooperation with Portland Jewish Events, a group spear-headed by one of our housemates. It's great to see, and since we're growing all the time through our advertising and programming efforts, we're able to keep the ball rolling and the growth just keeps going and going!
We are fortunate to have been a part of a community that continues to inspire and motivate us. Having this wonderful community already in place and constantly in motion also helps newcomers naturally feel comfortable our house. Why not? It's comfortable for so many others!
We hope to continue listening and responding to feedback from our participants, so that we can strengthen our approaches and programming.