Tuesday, September 7, 2010

MHP Personal Blog - Rebecca Karp - Doing More with More

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend two amazing conferences. Along with 119 other Jewish innovators from around the globe, I was selected to participate in ROI, held in Tel Aviv, at the beginning of July. In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Israeli government invited me to attend the North American alumni seminar of the Conference on Emerging Jewish Leaders, held in Chicago, just this past weekend. I was honored to have been chosen and invited – but would not have been able to attend either without the generosity of the Moishe House scholarship grants for professional development.

ROI stands for Return on Investment, a business term that has been re-appropriated by Lynn Schusterman for the Jewish world. The idea is that there are great young minds in Jewish innovation and there are many instances in which they could be nurtured in a more productive manner. This 4-day conference combines concrete skill-building sessions with networking and pitch workshops with socializing and the amazing atmosphere of Tel Aviv, culminating in a buzz about the future of the global Jewish community that cannot be found anywhere else. Representing Moishe House at ROI, I was able to interact with many diverse communities around the world and build friendships that will further the work we are doing here in Philadelphia and hopefully in all of the houses. We now have connections to artists, musicians, web designers, journalists and others around the globe who would love to collaborate with us. I also learned concrete skills relating to grant writing and pitching stories for various social media outlets that are directly applicable to my work both within Moishe House and in my professional role at AJC.

The alumni seminar this past weekend was an amazing opportunity to hear from experts from Israel, the Chicago area and nationally recognized organizations on the importance of Israel advocacy, concrete strategies for carrying out that advocacy and innovative ways in which to do so. We had presentations on Israel as a strategic asset to the United States, what the Ministry is doing to re-brand Israel through various forms of social media and what the Conference of Presidents sees as the future of the Jewish community (hint: it’s us and the kind of work every Moishe-r is doing!). Further, I was able to reconnect with some of the participants from the 10-day seminar I participated in last year and build new relationships with others from around the country. I was proud to talk up Moishe House and get people excited about it in whatever city they were from. While this trip had much more to do with my professional career as Assistant Director at AJC, the speakers I heard and takeaways I gleaned will also serve me well in Moishe House.

On a micro-level, the Moishe House grant that allowed me to travel to Israel and Chicago is in direct correlation to what ROI is all about – Moishe House literally invested in me so that I would be given the space to invest back into the Moishe House community and the larger Jewish community in which we live.

Monday, September 6, 2010

competing agendas

Yesterday, I was asked to speak at a press conference announcing a new petition denouncing bigotry against Muslims. I hesitated, because the press conference was going to be held during working hours, which would mean I would have to leave my office for an hour. The complicating factor was that the place I work, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), was one of the groups organizing the petition, but I was being asked to speak about the petition in the context of my connection to the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish progressive group in Boston where I am a member. Leaders at the Workmen's Circle, I suspect, knew that my presence at the conference would be seen as showing the support of young Jews, and that I would publicly be associated with Moishe Kavod House, but they were hoping I would highlight my membership and connection to Workmen's Circle. Since I work at JALSA as an administrative assistant, not as an advocate or political assistant or organizer, I don't think it occurred to anyone to associate me with JALSA's political work. But since the press conference was being held during work hours, I felt uncomfortable asking for the time from my JALSA work unless it was going to be in JALSA's self interest, and I was doing the work on behalf of JALSA. But of course, peope arleady knew JALSA supported the petition, the petition organizers wanted me there representing Workmen's Circle, or at least, the young folks at Moishe Kavod House.

All this brings me to an issue I constantly struggle with at Moishe Kavod House, how to juggle multiple agendas. Many institutions are excited to partner with Moishe Kavod becuase they see it as a chance to get young folks involved with their institution. We see our role as connecting young Jews to the larger Jewish community, so we are also excited about these partnerships, but they are often complicated. If Moishe Kavod co-sponsors an event with a local synagogue, young folks come, but they get more excited about returning to Moishe Kavod than they do to returning to the local synagogue. JALSA shares the values of Moishe Kavod and looks for opportunities for me to connect the two organizations, but since my role at Moishe Kavod is much more public than my role at JALSA, when I work on event or talk about an issue, whatever role I am playing is more likely to be associated with Moishe Kavod than JALSA. Furthermore, if I organize an event that is being co-sponsored by JALSA and Moishe Kavod, I have to meet the expectations both of what my boss at JALSA wants and what the community at Moishe Kavod wants. That puts me in a very hard position, especially since Sheila pays my salary, but the folks at Mose Kavod are my friends, plus, they pay my rent.

Moishe Kavod has been very successful in getting young adults Jews excited about Judaism, but sometimes it feels like other organizations want to reap the rewards of finally having young adult jews excited, and hope to partner with us and absorb young adult Jews into their institutions. We are excited to connect young adult Jews into other institutions, but we have to recognize that there is a reason young adult Jews are finding a home in our community not the previously established ones. We do things differently, we are peer led, we are open to all forms of Jewish identity, we are social, and we are justice oriented. How to support other Jewish institutions that have less success recruiting young Jews and want to benefit off our model without incorporating some of the elements of our model into their own is confusing to me. Its something I am always wrestling with.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Year? Wow!

I started Moishe about a year ago, and I feel like I have learned so much, it’s almost impossible to process it all. I have made a ton of new friends, discovered so much more of Chicago, and reconnected with and explored my Judaism. It has been an awesome, difficult, and breathtaking last year. And I am really excited to continue it all again!


I graduated from college a year ago, and I knew I was coming back to Chicago. Even though it’s my hometown, I was definitely nervous. Trying to bridge the gap between old and new friends felt a little overwhelming – old friends who hadn’t been in my life for years and new friends who I had yet to meet. Moishe House turned out to be the perfect solution to what I was facing. I was able to make Moishe House my home base and build (or rebuild) my relationships from there. I felt so safe in the space my roommates and I created, and I met tons of great community members, so my friendships just fell in place. I was able to bring my old friends from high school and my new friends from work into the community as well. One of my favorite things to see is all the people I care about most getting along and spending time together.


Being from Chicago, I have certainly seen my fair share of the city. But in a huge place like this, with a million things to do, you never feel like you’ve seen enough. Or you feel like you’ve seen everything and forget how much is out there. With Moishe House, I am constantly exploring new places and introducing newcomers to my favorite spots. Other people told me that they have returned home after college and felt like they didn’t belong. I, on the other hand, am rediscovering how much there is going on in this amazing city of mine.


I also wanted Moishe House as a chance to open myself up to reevaluating my identity as a Jew. I was never raised particularly religiously, and I didn’t get involved with Jewish activities on campus. However, when I graduated, I wanted to start exploring again. This year, I have gone to services, studied texts, learned about new holidays and met so many different kinds of Jews. Everyday I learn a new Hebrew word, and every month I learn a new tradition. A whole world has been opened up to me, and I can’t wait to see what else I learn this year.


I am thrilled that I get the chance to live here another year, so I can keep making friends, seeing new parts of the city, and finding out more about who I am as a Jew.