Monday, October 31, 2011

A MH Vancouver Sukkah story

It all began with a relatively simple plan: To build a Sukkah.

Jacob and I went to Home Depot with a Sukkah design that seemed affordable and easy to construct. It would be built with 6 and 8 foot long, thin aluminum poles attached together into a 12X12X8 foot Sukkah. Tarp walls would complete a roomy, drafty but altogether lovely Sukkah.Great.

Wandering the aisles at Home depot is probably what it feels like to be ADHD, not knowing where to look first, with nails, brackets, sinks, wood, drainage etc looming to the top of the warehouse ceiling and extending endlessly into the horizon of a D.I.Y junkie's dreamworld. Our first problem was that they didn't have poles, the right ones, that is. They had copper pipes (very expensive), long (12 foot) wobbly plastic pipes, but no 6 and 8 foot aluminum poles. So we kept exploring, silently recognizing that it would take a lot longer than expected. Ideas came to us, like using cinder blocks (didn't have the right ones), using lattices (too expensive), 2X4's (too heavy if we create a base out of them too), but were rejected, and we went home to think about it.

The next day we returned with Rotem. He thought a 2X4 structure could work. We bought 12 and 16 foot long 2X4 beams to build a 12 foot cube, with 16 foot crossbeams for support.

They were HUGE and HEAVY. Could we even fit them into a Subaru station wagon? We turned down the back seats, slid the beams in until they touched the windshield, but they still stuck out of the trunk about 4 feet. We had no rope with us either. We were impatient to go home, so Jacob and I sat in the trunk and held onto 12 -12 foot and 6-16 foot 2X4's, which, when held together, were as thick as a cedar trunk. Then we prayed that the beams a) wouldn't slip out of the open trunk door b) that the car wouldn't hit a bump c)scrape against the ground when driving uphill d) wouldn't get pulled over.

We drove 5 miles an hour to be safe. The drive from Home Depot to our house is uphill almost the entire way along a very busy street. Needless to say people were not happy we held up traffic. We shrugged off the dirty looks, the obscenities, and the people too embarrassed to even look at us for fear we are a bunch of crazy psychos. But then this car cuts us off and stops right in front of us in the middle of the street. This dude wearing a toque walks up and sticks his head in our window and says " you guys better pull over, you have no idea", I am going to write you up". We get a closer look at him and see he has a joint hanging out the corner of his mouth. Rotem looks at me, I look at Jacob who looks back at Rotem. Is he an off-duty cop smoking a joint or a stoner pretending to have authority? Rotem says something like, yeah sure we will get off the road at the next light, and he walks back to his car and drives off. We laugh and make our way slowly back home.

It poured the next day. But people showed up for the Sukkah building event, so we went out with our hammers, nails, brackets, boots and rain coats. After we began to nail the beams together, we realized a) just how tall 12 foot ceilings are, and how difficult it will be to erect the Sukkah and b) that our yard is uneven. So first we built the 3 walls separately, then laid one of the walls on the ground and nailed in the other 2 walls vertically, at right angles on opposite sides. Then we pushed and pushed until the Sukkah rotated 90 degrees, and the wall previously lying on the ground became the back wall. The walls teetered and swayed on the uneven ground, but held! The 10 people who helped stood back and laughed at how ridiculously tall the Sukkah was. It was unreal, like a distorted, monstrous prop. The Frankenstein of sukkahs. A walk- in -joke.

The Sukkah stood for 2 weeks and provided us with a place to host our clothing swap/drive, drink l'chaims, shake the Lulav, and hang out with friends. Would any of us have built such a Sukkah alone? NO, it was too much, too weird. But together as a group, somehow the weirdness of it became charming, the monster protective and comforting, the joke funny and not shameful.

Our walk-in-joke will be up next year, so if you are flying over Vancouver and your plane suddenly lurches, don't be alarmed, chances are you have just avoided our Sukkah.


Baruch Huberman, MH Vancouver

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recently, we are in the midst of the festival of Sukkot, a holiday that celebrates the harvest and often affords us an opportunity to shift the focus of our personal energies from personal introspection outwards into the world. Nothing exemplifies this shift more, than the sukkah, a simple tent, erected at Occupy Boston. Many Moishe Kavodniks have had an opportunity this past month to break bread in this sukkah and to take a look at the the goings-on in Dewey Square and it has struck many of us what an appropriate statement that particular sukkah really is in light of the orientation shift that Sukkot often embodies. Obviously we could look at the symbolic act of moving the festival celebration to the site of a mass protest as way of taking the personal commitments made during Yom Kippur in the process of T’shuvah or repentance and turning them into action in the world. Without endorsing the goals or tactics of the Occupation Movement, it is hard to deny that a public expression of righteous indignation at the current state of affairs is most certainly a conduit for living one’s values, the usually desired end result of t’shuvah.
This is certainly true, but there is another less obvious aspect of the Occupy Boston Sukkah that spoke to me. While meandering through the tent city that currently covers Dewey Square, I saw not one concerted action but dozens, heard not one voice but hundreds. The protesters and occupiers speak to a multitude of issues. Banners and signs decrying the evils of war, economic disparity, the denigration of teachers, the hijacking of the democratic process by business interests, and environmental degradation line Atlantic Avenue. It is a great fruit salad of causes. The sukkah itself also speaks to this level of pluralism for it was erected not by one Jewish organization but by more than eight. One would think that with so many priorities, organization would be next to impossible in this confusion of differing voices, yet chaos is far from the state of affairs there. The tent city sports free hot food distribution, recycling pick-up, and a free library with internet, and has the feeling in its calmer moments of a tidy New England town. It is for this reason that the Occupy Boston Sukkah has given me pause to think. Maybe it is not only that we need to come out of our reveries of introspection this Sukkot but out of our professional and political silos as well. Perhaps this Sukkot then can serve to remind us that turning outward does not just mean looking from ourselves out into the world, but also being able to embrace a diversity of priorities and opinions, that change comes not when we are walled off from one another and working diligently on our own personal projects, but when we find common ground with others. That being in the world and taking effective action often takes not single minded focus but the ability to listen to many voices and from that chorus, finally speak with one accord.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Orleans!

All I knew before coming to New Orleans was that I would be living in the
Moishe House. That was the only fact, the only stable thing I had to look forward to
while I waited to move. I had just graduated college from the University of Michigan
in May and I had decided to quit the job I had waiting for me in San Francisco and
move unemployed to New Orleans. When I had visited New Orleans in the past I
was moved by the emphasis that people in New Orleans seemed to place on
community and relationships. I was drawn to the people I had met during my visit
and the opportunities I could foresee in such a great city. Ideologically I was sold on the city, yet when I arrived I realized, what do I do now?

My first few days were spent networking with non-profits, companies, and
even restaurants that were just not hiring. I would walk into my not yet settled
home, the Moishe House and wallop in my discouragement to roommates who did
not yet know me. The support I received from my Moishe House roommates and
the larger Moishe House community literally got me through a rough transition
period. Everybody I met was willing to hash out my sorrows with me and offer
me positive reinforcement. I believe strongly in the power of community and
specifically the power of intentional community, Moishe House exemplifies my

At this point I have been in New Orleans slightly over a month and Moishe
House is now not the only thing that is settled for me in this city. Yet, living at the house and hosting people on a weekly basis has helped me focus and concentrate on
creating a new home for myself in New Orleans.

Barrie Schwartz
MH New Orleans

Monday, October 10, 2011

MH San Diego turns 1!!!

MHSD turns 1!!!!! That's right, as of October 1, 2011, we turned one. It's been a great year, our community has grown from essentially 3 people to hundreds. We now get at least 30 guests every Shabbat, and many regulars hang out outside of MHSD events.

That our birthday happened to fall between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur makes contemplating the year that passed both easy and interesting. This past year has been a learning experience to say the least. I personally learned how much EFFORT it takes to host successful and meaningful events and really what it takes to facilitate community-building. I want to thank my house-mates (Dovi, Natalie and Jon) for all their efforts in making our house and this social experiment called Moishe House an absolute success.

Personally, this was a year of big changes as well. It was my first complete year back in the US after living/working/studying in Israel for the prior 3 years; I also started a PhD program here in San Diego that was *a little* more time-consuming than I thought it would be. Even with all the stress of trying to juggle 5-6 events a month, tons of school work, trying to maintain a life outside of Moishe House (it's actually possible), at the end of every month it's been completely worth it. This month, I'm especially looking forward to building our sukkah (this Sunday). We just missed Sukkot when we moved in last year and I'm really excited to have an amazing house and back yard in which to build one this year.

Shana Tova and Gmar Chatima Tova to all.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I love...everything!

Life. Oh Life! So many things to think about. So many things to worry about. So many people to care about. But in the end...everything is great! Life. Is. Beautiful.

I spent the last 3 weeks of my life UBER stressed out with work, my love life, and I hate to admit it...Moishe House. Everything seemed to hit me at once. A few events crept up, kids at my work were being really obnoxious and hard to deal with, and for the first time in a while I was completely single (not even one date in the near future). I called my sister, cried to my mother, and then it hit me. "What am I doing?" There are SO many moments in my life where everything seems so tough and unbearable, but then I realize, I get to wake up tomorrow- healthy, well-educated, loved, etc. etc., and I get to start fresh. "Snap out of it lucky are you?"

I'm also lucky that this point in my life/year came at the end of the Jewish year. "Going home", aka driving 20 minutes into the San Fernando Valley, was a breath of fresh air. My cousin was in town from NY, I spent a few nights at my parents house, and I was able to really digest everything that was happening in my life and how I wanted to grow from it all. Erev Rosh Hashana was the I went over to my aunt and uncles house with my mom and grandma and was able to enjoy a dinner filled with fond memories from the motherland, prayers over food, and damn good challah and honey. It was easy to completely forget about all my stress and focus on laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. Moments and memories such as these seem to somehow erase all bad feelings and bad days. The bad days come and they go, but dinners with family and laughing until you cry are the memories I keep from year to year.

Moishe House was also something that made me super happy this week! Although it can sometimes be a stressful thing, Moishe House is sure to provide me with a dose of love, spirituality, and community that makes me forget about all my stress. This past week Moishe House LA hosted our biggest non-partnered event ever. We had 50 people at our house for Shabbat dinner. Being in the house all day, cooking, and setting up for 30 people only to watch person after person and group after group coming in to join in on our dinner made me smile from ear to ear. Sure there was a point in all of our nights where we thought "Oy! There's not enough food!" or "Oy! Not everyone can sit!" but...WHO CARES? There's ALWAYS enough food, and so what if people have to stand? They're still enjoying their night and meeting new awesome people. It was so beautiful, and I can honestly say I felt almost high the next day from the feeling of being so proud to be a part of our house and a part of our organization.

So I hope to share with all of you and I hope to remind myself next time I feel like! Love everything you do! Be happy! Happiness is the key to sanity! and Breathe! What ever that means to you- whether it's an actual inhale and exhale or whether it's a few nights away from reality- BREATHE!

Besos to all.