Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cultural Foreclosure

A new normal is emerging to greet us in the years post the "Great Recession"; the harsh reality of foreclosures, unemployment, diminished opportunities, and the associated problems are hitting close to home, not only in the Jewish Community, but in the cities we live in. In the non-profit world we use terms like donor fatigue or overextended, to explain why people aren't giving. The hard part is looking inwards and asking if our own policies and procedures are sustainable in the long term; if the answer is yes, then the next question is: "What will inspire people to give?" These hard questions challenge the ego and our sense of identity.

Moishe House OC is confronting such a crisis of identity, we are facing a possible Cultural Foreclosure in July, and just like with Jack Bauer in 24, the cliché ticking clock is doing what it does best. Dwindling. Unfortunately in this episode, we don't have a staff of crack writers making sure we make it out just in time for dinner. Inside of our circle we see the good the house is doing in the community - the results are sometimes only visible when looked at over the course of the past years.

Let me paraphrase the organization's tag-line, "Letting 20-somethings in the Jewish Community be the Jews they want to be." I read this unofficial mission statement as granting us the right to operate and maintain a safe space where Jews of all backgrounds and abilities can come out and be part of the larger community; in academic terms I would call Moishe House OC a "Safe Space." Jewish Family Services called me up and asked if we are accepting of people with social disorders - ADD, social anxiety, high functioning autism - to name a few, and if the community would be accepting, the simple answer is yes.

Our house's doors are open to anyone, and we strive to do our best to give everyone a space to express themselves Jewishly. I think we have succeeded. It seems telling that we are the front line for integrating people into the community that might not have had a place to go, or a place to go where they felt comfortable. Just the mere fact that our doors might have to close, is both indicative of the times we live in and a greater problem in the community.

What we do here at our house goes beyond parties, Shabbats, or service projects. Every event is a chance for us to come from a place of service; the emails we receive from parents grateful that their adult child has a place to meet people and be social, are quite touching.

If we close our doors there are members of our community who might not have a place to go. For years we have pulled close together, called ourselves a tribe, and yet now, for whatever reasons: intangible metrics, subtle results, a lack of understanding; there is not enough funding in our community to keep alive an organization providing a place in the tribe for everyone. This is what I referred to as cultural foreclosure, we banked on funding from the community and yet when it is needed most we are having the hardest time finding it.

Montgomery County Community in Action

Last year at this time, MHMoCo was unpacking, revamping and making a final decision about our name change. Decisions were made, new sofas acquired and boxes unpacked (with the help of our community members). We even discovered that our old dining room table had built in leaves that allowed the table to accommodate up to 20 people. We were a bit uncertain what would happen to our community and how it would change when we moved from one side of the D.C. metro to the other but were excited for the adventure. In our new Moishe House on Luxmanor Road, we welcomed newcomers and old timers alike, folk who were thrilled by our backyard, deck, two fire places and a close proximity to the metro and many local synagogues but the best part about our new-old Moishe House is the community itself.

Following the move, housemates discussed our interest in getting our community members more involved in planning and dictating the types of programs and activities they wanted to see. That is all fine and good, but our community members have gone above and beyond. In the last six months, our community members have shown their commitment to Moishe house, as well as demonstrated their individual skills, talents and interests, the elements that make up our diverse community.

Reflecting on the past six months, and some of the programs we planned, our community m embers were what made each of these events successful as well as unique. On Shavuot, Erica Allen wowed us with her Torah and Tanach knowledge, leading a winning team in Torahial Pursuit. During World Refugee Shabbat, Emmalee June and Bella Flores amazed us with their exceptional chopping and cooking skills and for dishes that they’d never even heard of. When we hosted a local photographer and art show which brought over 80 people to MHMoCo, Ilana Schafer graced us with her harp playing, Jessica Simon moved us with her poems and Mario Stylianou amazed us with his awesome photography. Throughout the summer, our BBQ’s were a hit, helped by Adam Marker and Jeffrey Reynolds participation in a brew test and with Andrew Brenner’s hammock village. As we moved into the high holidays, our community members continued to amaze us. Rebecca Lemus and I worked together to lead a reflective writing experience for Slichot. Ellen Abramowitz and Tamar Vardi were essential in the construction of a Kosher and standing Sukkah. Amy Egan rescued us from a maze of corn and Briana Levine co-created a do-it-yourself Zumba with Rachael. Jared Tannenbaum is so patient while teaching games at our monthly game nights and Eli Allen makes sure all of our bonfires are safe and properly extinguished. Alex Tharp made fabulous sufganiyot over Hannukah and Abby Robinson talked all about Jewish online dating just before Hamza Khan facilitated an intergroup discussion with the Jewish Islamic Dialogue Society of Greater Washington.

I am so lucky to live in MH MoCo and have such wonderful, talented individuals around me in my community. I look forward to seeing what our community members will do in 2012.

-Jordy Snyder

Ben Blatteis from Beijing!

If there is light in the soul,
there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person,
there will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house,
there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
there will be peace in the world.

Chinese Proverb - from China Leaders Magazine, David Harris January 2012

There continues to be unprecedented interest in China from western
businesses, universities, and entrepreneurs, and at Moishe House
Beijing we are at the epicenter of this exciting trend. The profiles
of individuals who are comfortable learning a new language, traveling
thousands of miles for personal development, and succeeding in a
completely foreign and, in some cases, uncomfortable environment share
some common features. Many of our participants in events from our
first month are:

1. Highly independent
2. Young and entrepreneurial
3. Transient population

As a result of the above, there is strong demand for a
comfortable and stable social structure for young professionals in

Young professionals who have established careers for themselves
in China tend to be highly entrepreneurial, hardworking, forward
thinking, and independent. Moishe House in Beijing has access to one
of the most interesting demographics in the world as the small
population of westerners established in China is at the forefront of
one of the world’s biggest growth stories of the century. As more and
more young westerners arrive in China, there is a growing void in many
of their lives as many have already prioritized their career and
future goals in China above all else.

Outreach to these individuals is crucial to regain the
work-life balance and to provide a much needed welcoming, stable,
Jewish home environment that is currently not being provided. Moishe
House Beijing seeks to welcome a key demographic of young professional
Jews and non-Jews alike to create engaging, memorable, and fun
experiences for the Beijing and Greater China twenty (to
thirty)-something community.

I am excited to work with my fellow directors of Moishe House
Beijing on the Speaker’s Series, Sunday bagel brunches, professional
classes, book clubs, wine & cheese nights, yoga, movie screenings,
parties and myriad of other programs and events in the heart of
Beijing’s Central Business District.

If you are ever in Beijing be sure to come by and say hello,
we'll keep the light on for you.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Scalability of Dreams

Moishe House is universally acknowledged by those it touches as a hugely positive force in the Jewish world and beyond.
In some places more than others.
Many Jewish people are so acclimatised to being raised in community that they are quite unsurprised by another such initiative. But for so many urban dwellers, such possibilities of communal creation and re-creation revolutionise the very fabric of their day to day lives.

Moishe House HQ has great social action supervisors, spiritual content supervisors, geographically-related supervisors.
What it would be great to have at Moishe House is more research on effective community models.
Because we are at the next step.
We are the next step of recreating meaningful community in the urban jungle.
It is all very well to consistently encourage a Moishe House to bring in new residents, and with them, new circles of friends,
but as another resident leaves, whole circles are lost, too. In some cities, this causes no problem, as there are plenty of places to go to explore cultural identity. In many American cities there are great swathes of venues where people can find comon ground whilst proudly putting their own stamp on their cultural identity, but MoHoLo is an island at the moment.
There are some amazing independent minyanim, but the House is the only physical centre, where people can meet and re-meet time and time again.

It empowers the change-makers through small simple steps, and leaves space for people to take initiative.
It reminds participants that true community is created by self-inclusion and action.
There are no spectators. We are all participants in the circle of those, and consequently in our society.
Active or passive. Positive, negative, indifferent.
What we do in our daily actions creates the community we are a part of, whether or not we think ourselves a part of it.

So, what next in London?

When Moishe House began, it galvanised funders to address the shift in Jewish community dynamics. It highlighted the post-college community drop-out rate, as many people in their 20s no longer rushed to marry, settle down and fit into synagogue-centric life. But in some cities, community demographics have raced way ahead even of Moishe House's expectations. People who come to our house range in general from 20-40, with many people not fitting into the conventional family model. We are part of such a family, tribal culture, and many traditional funders are so concerned about intergenerational continuity, they may underestimate the potential of the single, the unconventional, the childless-by-choice-or-otherwise in our extended family that intersects through common ground.
But you never know how the ripples of the pond will affect the water and stir the depths.

The MH website boasts a 'scalable approach'. It would be wonderful if the creators and supporters of Moishe House would fully acknowledge the huge impact they've had in certain cities, and took some responsibility (deeper than the recent 'Moishe House Without Walls' funding) for the gap of knowledge that goes into scaling beyond what was dreamed at the beginning. It would be wonderful if they would face the consequences of success in providing meaningful Jewish experiences, supporting leaders and creating vibrant home-based Jewish communities.
Because if they don't, in some places, (such as London, say), all the circles that Moishe House has joined together may just as soon melt away if the knowledge to empower them doesn't match the speed at which they are shifting.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Moishe House STL: A Sign of Things to Come.

As Moishe House STL welcomes 2012, I can’t help but feel confident that 2012 will be a good year. After a year of transition, that saw two residents move on to the next step in their lives and two new residents welcomed into the Moishe House community, things have slowed down for MHSTL. This change in pace is a great thing for us as we have begun to build steam for 2012. Over the past couple of months we have really laid the framework for the type of programming and turnout that we have striven for; with the focus being on diverse programming and continuing organizational relationships.

Over the past few months we have started to develop a relationship with the Jewish Food Pantry. We feel that in creating an ongoing relationship with the Jewish Food Pantry, we are able to better serve the community in times of need. In addition to planning events every few months, we have “friended” members of the Jewish Food Pantry Staff on Facebook. This allows them the ability to ask our community for help when they need it.

This is the first of multiple partnerships for MHSTL and will allow for us to continue to plan diverse events, while creating meaningful ties to the community, as well. In addition to helping the community, we have had great results with these types of events, in terms of turnout and new people. Hopefully, as we continue this partnership and create new partnerships, we will also be appealing to more and more Jewish young adults. Then this, really, will end up being a good year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Moishe House East Bay: A Time of Transition

We used to have a dining room table, until about two hours ago. That table had seen a lot of memories: Had us holding a lot of hands, supported a Challah or two and some of our amazing dinners together. With the exit of our Captain and beloved roommate, Glenn Howe, our sturdy steed of a table sailed with him. He wasn’t the first to go and wont be the last to leave. In December, Jack Cohen made his grand exit from Moishe House and took with him a real genuineness and love for his community. He’s not far, and as a Moishe resident, created a program that gained so much following, he has no choice but continue it. The people have spoken; they want Torah the Explorah!

There seems to be a trend forming for me, as I watch furniture disappear and new “stuff” emerge. It was clear our home is entering a major transitional phase, and having only been a Moishe for seven months, I knew I wouldn’t be the new kid on the block much longer. As any group forms, storms and norms, our roles become better defined. We start to get a feel for what we are as individuals and who we are within the group. As one member leaves, the roles shift and a new dynamic take shape. We teach one another without even knowing that a larger lesson in life enters the foreground of your existence.

The beauty of Moishe House isn’t just the community currently being cultivated; it’s an awareness and honor of all that has come and gone before you. Although Oakland is now on the NYTimes top 45 Places to go IN THE WORLD, http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/travel/45-places-to-go-in-2012.html?pagewanted=all , Moishe House Oakland left something to be desired in a past life. Senior Moishinik, Joshua Walters, sat me down one night and told me how they struggled to keep the project afloat just two years ago. They held an open house and only two people showed up and ended up being our roommates, Eli Zaturanski and Jack Cohen. Now, in Berkeley, we’ve got emails, calls and drop bys of people from all over the East Bay wanting to join as a resident.

We’ve got a good thing going on over here, and it wouldn’t be without those that came before us, and the promise of new energy from those yet to come. Moishe House’s decentralized leadership gives us the power of our process as a home, to create the community we love. The more of us out there that can come in and leave a little goodness behind, the better for the vision and reach of our community as a whole.

So, let this be an homage to my Moishemen: the guys who brought me in, who taught and fed me well—with knowledge, acceptance and a leg of lamb. I feel confident moving forward with your spirit and support behind us.

-Katherine Bruce

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

You Never Know...

...who you're going to meet along the way.

A week after we moved into the new West LA Moishe House, I was going through that all-too-familiar process of scouring Craigslist for a few little things we still needed to make the house feel more like home. Of course, Craigslist is always an adventure (I've met my share of unsavory characters and  oddly scented furniture along the way) and you never know exactly what you're in for. This time, however, I responded to a random ad for a 'lightly used' bed frame, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the woman who had posted the ad was not only Jewish, but was also active in our community (she happens to run a website called All Things Jewish dot com )

I asked if she knew about Moishe House and told her a little about what were doing, and suddenly we went from guarded Craigslist strangers to new friends.  "Wow," she said excitedly. "Now that I know where it's going, I've got some other furniture I'd be happy to donate to you guys."

Not only that, but she took the time to write a really nice blog entry about Moishe House which you can read here: http://allthingsjewish.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/allthingsjewish-discovers-moishe-house-in-la/

One more reminder of how fantastic our community is.

You can check out her website at allthingsjewish.com 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Making Jewish connections across cities via Moishe House

The 20s are a complicated age for Jews of this generation (yes I know, what age hasn’t been complicated for anyone ever?) Finished with college and its comforting social environment and life structure but not yet settled into permanent family units or long-term careers, 20-somethings often find themselves fighting against alienation and uncertainty about where to be and what to do and who to associate with. Even without current economic difficulties, the pace and realities of globalized life today require a significant variety of professional experience and graduate degrees, and to obtain them young people have to go from one city to another looking for the right credentials, while hoping along to the way to have meaningful experiences and if they’re lucky enjoy themselves. Many Jewish organizations have stepped up their efforts to reach out to people of our age, and we are very appreciative of that, but in my case Moishe House has been the crucial niche.

I was in Boston for graduate school for 2 years (after living briefly in NY), and I made great friends at school and went to Hillel events. But as a graduate student I realized that I was looking for something a bit more organic and independent when it came to Jewish community and something not so clearly tied to a university framework, which I knew to be fleeting. Through a fortuitous encounter with someone very involved in the Boston Moishe Kavod House I ended up going there for Shabbat dinner and loved it. The feeling of the place and the range of activities they offered was wonderful. Because as it turned out I discovered it late in my stay in Boston I was never able to fully take advantage of that great community, but it clued me in to what kinds of opportunities were out there for people like me if I went looking.

When I knew that I’d be moving to Philadelphia I straightaway looked up the Moishe House to see if they were looking for new housemates. Fortunately for me they were, and after a brief interview process I was happy to be accepted. Living in a Moishe House has been an enormous boon to me as someone moving to a new city. Not only do my housemates Cody, Becca, and Heather serve as an immediate friendly family, but working together on a broader mission, even when that just means going shopping together for an event, forms a deeper set of relationships than housemates otherwise have. And of course it’s been great simply being at the center of the social, educational, and volunteering activity that goes on at Moishe House Philly. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people active both in our community and in other Jewish networks and organizations throughout Philly, and also to be connected to interesting events and opportunities I otherwise would not have known existed. And just as importantly, I’ve enjoyed reaching out to young friends and relatives of mine who are in the Philly area and encouraging them to come to our events. This is how Moishe House works; young Jews use the space and forum it provides to bring their friends into a more intentional zone of Jewish community, and by extension a large interconnected network of friends, family, and previously unknown people are involved and energized. It’s been a privilege and an honor to be part of it, and I hope that some of the people I’ve brought in have been affected as I have.

Efficiency through Trust

As a co-founding resident of Moishe House San Fernando Valley (in Los Angeles), I am proud to say we are on our sixth month and going strong! The past few months have had their ups and downs, with many challenges being overcome and even more success achieved. Having experienced other programs at nearby Moishe Houses, I've gained a pretty good understanding of what my particular group of residents does exceptionally well, and I think it's important that these "trade secrets" are shared.

Most Moishe House residents can relate to the super busy and demanding schedules that my roommates and I share. Finding time to have a planning pow-wow to schedule the month's programs, as well as several prep meetings to plan out individual programs is something that we all struggle with- and we find planning meetings to be especially hard to schedule given our conflicting work schedules and social calendars. So what do we do that is so unique at our house?

The greatest strength of our house's dynamic- the thing that makes our house's programs get churned out and hum along like a well oiled machine- is trust. Of course, we communicate as much as we can to plan our programs, but a 4 hour meeting once a month is something that we can't really get done. Emails, group text messages, and conversations over hooka during commercial breaks are where we brainstorm ideas and plan out our month, but that really just puts the barebones together.

When it's time to get the programs going, we know that everyone will do their best, and we also know that there is a 100% chance that something will not go according to plan. Like I said, we aren't quite able to have meetings and plan out everything to the tee, so when impromptu decisions need to be made, it goes without saying that every resident has the leeway to make the call on what changes need to be made.

We have had Shabbat meals change from BBQ to Brunch on the day of the program, compensation plans go in totally different directions, programs planned for two dozen people yield over 40 participants, and residents not being able to be a part of every program due to other obligations. If one of us can't make a program, it goes without saying that the others will be there to pick up the slack and do what needs to be done, without any planning, any discussion, or any scorekeeping of who did what when.

Eugene - MH San Fernando Valley

Monday, January 9, 2012

Food for the Soul

When I moved to Portland, OR in September, I had no idea what was in store for me. Living with more than one roommate for the first time, creating seven Jewish programs a month, and moving to a city I knew nothing about were only some of the many concerns I had.

Yet, sitting here 4 months later, I can say how grateful I am to have moved into this beautiful community filled with constant support from my roommates and Moishe House participants.

Every week, my three other roommates and I discuss the endless possibilities we have in creating a spirited, energetic, and loving Jewish community. While we all have our ideas in how this will be created, one concept we all agree upon is the importance of establishing a community in the house. After all, one cannot discuss its importance of community building if we are not living it every single day in the home we live in. With this in mind, one way we have established a community within the house is the agreement of sharing food.

Let’s face it - One of the most important rooms in a house is the kitchen. The kitchen is where food for the soul is prepared to eat and enjoy. One might think that sharing food does not take much thought or effort. However, witnessing a transition between, “My food is mine” to “Our food is for everyone!” has built a stronger connection between all of us. In addition, I have seen our home grow from individuality to community building, filled with love, support, and yummy food! This simple, yet important practice has created a bond, which will continue to shine outside of our home and help us to create the community we are focused on.

As I continue to have a vital position in this leadership role, I look forward in creating more ways to connect with my roommates and simultaneously establishing a strong and vibrant Jewish community in Portland, OR!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

MH San Francisco - Happy New Year

December was an exciting month at mhsf. Me and Sarah are moving out in the middle of January to a new place. It's been a year living here for me and over three for her. So the new year is coming in with big changes on the way. It's been really great living at the moishe house. It was my first time living with Sarah Beth, and a chance to make really great friendships with housemates and community members.

We have had some awesome parties over the year, like my move-in and Halloween, and tons of great smaller events as well. Volunteering at Hayes valley garden and the comics club were some of my favorites.

It's a bit bitter sweet to leave, but I am also looking forward to this next year and the new place in Oakland. And it's really good to know that the house is in good hands with Dan, jay and Meg. I can't wait to visit mh as a guest!

Last I just want to say a big thanks to all of our community members who came out to visit us. Great meeting all of you and getting to know you! And thank you also to the moishe house office and all of the donors -- big and small -- who made our household possible over the last year and beyond. Thank you and happy 2011!


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Moishe House Philadelphia… Tradition

When my roommates and I plan our calendar each month, we talk about what events to organize, how these events will fit into the holiday calendar, and how to incorporate we spend time talking about what events we would like to do, what events fit in with the Jewish holidays and what events our how to incorporate events Moishe Houseour house has consistently done at this time of year. in the past. I am lucky to have moved into a Moishe house with traditions and history to build upon. Even though Moishe House Philadelphia was only 4 years old when I moved in two summers ago, the house has its own history and events that community members come out every year for a ton of annual events and traditions that my roommates and I are able to build upon. .
That’s not to say there isn’t reinvention and transition. WithThat being said, with each new crop of roommates comesadds a new and exciting element and idea to the mix. new and exciting ideas. This year, we continued the tradition of one of my favorite events, Holiday Cocktails. That’s it you guessed it,What could be better than a holiday party plus +amazing homemade cocktails? = super fun time. This time year we changed it up a little by having our party on Shabbat and added a little more food to the mix. It was our good fortune that Chanukah fell late this year, allowing a fun mix of community members old and new, including some previous house residents..
Our house is lucky in that even after residents move on, many don’t move too far (3 ex residents live in our neighborhood). These may or may not be people I actually lived with, but either way our bond of shared experience is strong. This event, unlike others felt extra special because two of the residents, including myself, had all of our siblings attend. As we gathered for a picture of Moishe House residents old and new, I realized that much like my own brothers (whom I was lucky enough to have with me that night) my Philadelphia housemates old and new are like family rather than just friends. I look forward to a new year full of reinvention, transition and, of course, tradition at Moishe House Philadelphia.

Motor City Takeover

The Moshie House is taking over the city of Detroit!

No, not literally but which Moishe House can say they had the likes of a Mayor, United States Senator, and international pop star over for Shabbat dinner within six months of their grand opening? That’s what we call Detroit Muscle…

The Detroit Moishe House is a strong group of residents who are not only trying to build a strong Jewish community within Metro Detroit but also trying to rebuild a brain-drained city. Our house is so much more then enriching Jewish life, it’s about breaking down stereotypes and rebuilding Jewish community within Detroit City limits.

A few of our residents are taking a proactive approach to rebuilding our city by founding both the Live For Detroit fund, a rent subsidy program for Next Generation leaders of Detroit to move to the city, and Detroit Harmony, a nonprofit which focuses on creating natural diversity in the city.

As residents, we understand the tremendous undertaking to rebuilding a major city like Detroit. However, with the generous giving by our donors and the outstanding efforts by people within the Detroit Jewish community, we look forward to the day where we can say that the residents of the Motor City Moishe House played an important role in the rebirth of a prosperous Jewish community within Detroit.

Thank you again to all of our donors and a special thank you to Adam Finkel who is the reason our house is in existence.

Make it a great year in 2012!

Big G

Thoughts on Leadership from MH Hoboken

In leadership, sometime we just do. Knowledge, pedagogy, intellectualism, education, programming, planning, organizing, and resources are all important aspects of leadership but sometimes, as a leader, you just have to take action and make a decision. You don't know if others will follow, you don't know if they will pick up where you leave off, and many times you don't even look before you leap.

Most of these moments are small droplets of time, they are quick visceral decisions over seemingly unimportant and minuscule issues - from how to treat the awkward fellow attending a program for the first time, to whether to give a darn about recycling at your 80+ person Hanukah celebration, to whom to ask in your community to do Motze, to whether you will make an announcement on behalf of another Jewish organization... These instinctive calls we make are not reflective of laziness or sloth; our knee jerk responses are not a negative but are our natural desire to create community that we want to be a part of. These quick calls reflect less on our communities, which are determined more by our house meetings, than they do ourselves. Meetings with housemates are enjoyable but deliberate and though fun, they are fundamentally formal. These meetings are broad in scope, often covering more than one months worth of programming and discussing past points of success and of improvement. It is in the slippery but inevitable detail, the unspecified minutia that has fallen through the cracks, that we find out what type of leader each of us are. When the otherwise best laid plans of a fully cognizant community building effort isn't even part of our consciousness is when we set the tone and tenor of our communities. It is in these small programmatic puddles that our communities see who we really are - are we deferring to men to be our leaders of Jewish ritual or are we empowering all community members? Are we compromising our values for expediency or are we going the extra mile for our beliefs? Are we, as residents, the new "it" crowd or should we be welcoming, inclusive, and empowering?

While it is obvious that the singular voice of the written word tends to hyperbole it is just as true that each droplet decision we make adds to another, pooling together like rain that feeds into a stream and into a river where it eventually has a strong current. Leadership requires that ability to make a snap decision but if we are not cognitively aware of the aggregate effect of our actions than we may end up with communal currents we ourselves do not like. Sometimes to be a leader, you must swim against the current even if its of your own making.