Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Yad Vashem seminar

In December of 2011 around 25 young leaders from across Europe gathered in Jerusalem to attend the seminar organized by Yad Vashem and EUJS. Thanks to Yad Vashem, we were able to participate in lectures and workshops conducted by eminent specialists. Participants had the unique opportunity to learn about the museum and research institute from the inside, to find out many interesting facts and to exchange opinions with other young jews. The wonderful seminar gave us a broader and deeper perspective on issues concerning the Shoah.

As a person brought up in Poland and used to research done by Polish scientists I was really curious to learn about the opinions of foreign researchers. It is fascinating how the Holocaust is taught in Israel and the tremendous role it plays in the consciousness of Israeli society. Sessions on the roles of Jewish leaders were fascinating and inspiring. I think that as a young Jewish leaders living in a safe world we often do not realize the full scope of responsibility that is entrusted to us, and how great of an honor it is.

However, what is most valuable in my opinion is the ability to continue this wonderful program in the organizations which we have represented, as well as in our own communities. We are currently thinking about creating a Polish-Jewish network of young leaders involved in educating students about the Holocaust.

Kiki Lipsett - Moishe House Vancouver

Since my involvement five years ago in a weekend retreat of dialogue between Muslims and Jews (called Peacemakers at Camp Tawonga in California), I have developed a deep interest in learning about and participating in opportunities for Muslim-Jewish dialogue. For me, this interest relates to a more general personal belief that the more people of diverse backgrounds come into contact, the easier it is to break down barriers. It’s a simple belief, really. If you get to know someone of a different religious or cultural background, it’s a lot harder to hold on to stereotypes about that religion or culture. I think this is a fairly logical and straightforward belief; what I’ve found in practice, however, is that it is actually quite difficult to find a space and circumstance for relationship-building to occur between Muslims and Jews.
Two years ago, there was a talk held at the University of British Columbia between an American Jew living in Israel and a Palestinian living in the West Bank, both of whom were highly involved in peace initiatives in Israel. During the Q & A, a young Palestinian man heatedly challenged the Palestinian speaker for sharing the stage with a Jewish person and speaking as though each had an equal role in the conflict. His argument was that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one side was clearly the oppressor and the other the oppressed, and that fact had to be acknowledged. After the talk, I approached this young man and said, “Hi. I’m Jewish and I don’t often get the chance to have conversations about this topic with Muslim people. Can we get together and talk?” He was more than willing to do so, and a week later we went for coffee and had an incredibly rich and eye-opening conversation.
But this conversation was in isolation, and it only involved two people. If barriers are to be broken, there needs to be more than two people involved in breaking them down. When the five of us began living in the Moishe House last year, I realized that we were in an opportune position to connect the local Jewish community with the local Muslim community. Through a Vancouver Rabbi we knew who was involved in dialogue efforts between Muslims and Jews, we got connected to an already existing project called Muslim-Jewish Feed the Hungry. This project brings together Jews and Muslims on a monthly basis at First United Church in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver’s poorest neighborhood, to prepare and serve a meal to many hungry Vancouverites. While making food, these groups have the opportunity to get to know each other. The goal of the project is two-fold: feed people who are hungry and at the same time provide Muslims and Jews an environment to get to know each other and talk about politically- and religiously-charged issues. I really love this idea: connect people of different backgrounds—specifically, two groups who have historically been in conflict—in a setting that enables them to transcend their differences and judgments to work to tackle a greater, universal issue (like poverty or hunger).
In November of 2011, Jacob (another Moishe House resident) and I attended the project’s steering committee meeting to learn more about the project and to understand how we could best fit our young, Jewish community into it. The meeting was held at the home of a Pakistani couple who cooked a delicious, traditional Pakistani breakfast. Around the table sat Jews and Muslims of diverse ages, countries of origin, educational background, occupations, and native languages. While they discussed logistical difficulties in planning the following month’s event, I sat there observing the ease with which people communicated with each other, and the respect everyone shared for each other. This breakfast meeting showed me that there was in fact a space in Vancouver where Muslims and Jews had been building friendships and working collaboratively, peacefully, and productively. And they welcomed us into the project with open arms.
Our Moishe House community has now participated in the past three Muslim-Jewish Feed the Hungry events, and it has been a wonderful learning experience for me. I’m happy that we’ve made this event one of our monthly Moishe House events, as I think it provides a very meaningful and thought-provoking experience for anyone who attends. The most important thing I’ve realized thus far is that although I eventually want to be able to have those conversations about Muslim-Jewish relations and the long-standing tensions, I first want to simply get to know the Muslim participants better. I want to build genuine friendships with them because, as we all know, it’s a lot easier to talk about anything with friends than it is with strangers.

Nati, MH Buenos Aires

Because of Moishe House Buenos Aires, I am happy to say that I am now actively struggling with my jewishness, even if it wasn´t always like that. Both of my parents come from Jewish families, so somehow I could say I grew up in a Jewish home but at the same time without knowing it was one. Why? As Shaya Cohen points out “jewishness has no empirical, objective, verificable reality to which we can point and over which we can exclaim  `this is it´”. My parents encouraged me since an early age to explore, think and go beyond what I was supposed to learn; and by doing that they took me to the beginning of what I refer to as my “Jewish journey” when they taught me the essential to any Jew, as our name Israel means struggle with God.

In Argentina it’s not common at all to live with housemates. My friends and family thought I was going crazy when I told them about moving into the Moishe House, so this idea of struggling was crucial to become a Moishe House resident. I got involved in Moishe House almost by chance...while backpacking in Europe, someone in Warsaw tolde me about this group of young Jews living at a place called Moishe House. 

Day after day Moishe House gives me the opportunity to explore, define and most importantly experience Judaism. Being Jewish was implicit when I grew up, then became something related to certain institutions and is currently something that’s part of who I am, that I can’t separate myself from. Judaism is now alive, I learn from it every time I share dinner or even sing on a karaoke with Jews from different backgrounds and even different countries at my living room.

I have a new family, it’s members live all around the world. I live at the Moishe House, I got new brothers and a sister, I call it home. That’s exactly how everyone that comes feels about it. We are a house, we are a family, we respect and love each other, as a consequence we all feel free to say and do whatever we want. I am blessed to belong to a healthy community where we let and encourage each other to shine.

“Why am I a jew?” Thanks to Moishe House I can’t answer it. Instead we replace words and rules with our collective actions. We get to ask the questions ourselves. 
I didn’t want to be corny, but I know it’s worth it in this case! Thanks to everyone that make Moishe House possible, to it’s donors, amazing staff and crazy residents.

Natalia Etkin – Resident of the Moishe House Buenos Aires

Michael Z's blog - MH Vienna

It’s Friday 2 hours before Shabbat… Sitting relaxed on my seat in the kitchen, with Elazar my friend, who's playing guitar…

Thinking back on the times we've spent at Moishe House Vienna, I can tell: yes there are things we can proudly present.

It is not even a question that we have had and still have a great life at Moishe House.

As one of the residents of MH Vienna I have met great people from all around the world. It was not only meeting those people, but also creating an amazing atmosphere and coordinating great events.

For me it is a lifetime experience, because it was always a big but pleasant challenge to invite people from all around the world and to entertain them.

Through the events I gained a lot of experience. I developed further my communication skills, simply through speaking, having small talks and explaining to the newcomers what the idea of MH is.

Furthermore the MH events helped me getting closer to my Jewish roots, I learned a lot about Judaism from my mates Elazar, Daniel and David. Once a month we usually have a Shabbat dinner/lunch at our house, where I have experienced how amazing a Shabbat can be, by singing songs, having nice conversations, enjoying our self made food with a cup of wine.

MH helped me a lot to build up new friendships and taught me what responsibility means. It’s not only organizing an event, and inviting guests, it’s about making sure the guest are having a great time at our MH in Vienna.

I am looking forward to hosting you at the Moishe House Vienna. Thanks to all the people who made this great idea come to life.


Monday, February 27, 2012

You make time for the things that are important

Before moving in to the Moishe House I was a fairly active participant. I lived 3 blocks away and would be over quite a bit (whether or not there was an event). I became pretty good friends with the guys there, and once they had an opening I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to become more active in the Russian Jewish community. I wasn’t sure how much this would change things. I already work full time, go to school part time for my MBA twice a week, and have other hobbies I do on weekly basis like rock climbing and martial arts. My main concern was that I wouldn’t have enough time to put into the Moishe House. Being a part of the Moishe House ended up being a great experience so far, and I was able to make sure I dedicated the appropriate amount of time. I enjoyed being an active part in planning events and figuring out how we can make a difference in our community. Being a fairly social person, I liked meeting new people on a regular basis and like the fact that there is never a dull moment in the Moishe House and we constantly have people stopping by. I was also able to bring in new people that I was friends with that had no involvement in the Moishe House before I started to live there. Not only was I able to increase my network of friends in the Russian Jewish community, but I was able to meet members of other Moishe Houses throughout the country, while on a retreat in Los Angeles. It was amazing to see how having a common bond (the fact that we were all Jewish and living in a Moishe House and trying to make a difference in our communities) made it very easy for us to get along and establish new friendships. I am very excited to continue being an active part of this organization and help strengthen the Russian Jewish community here in Chicago.

Herman Tkach, MH Chicago RSJ

Friday, February 24, 2012

My First MohoPDX Blog

I moved out to Portland in the beginning of August 2011. I did not know what to expect nor was to be in stored.
I had just been laid off of work 72 hrs prior, driving up from Los Angeles CA. A packed 2 Door, 94' Rav4, my Fender Deluxe in the back seat, and my 2 yr. old pup in the front to keep me company.
I have been to almost all 50 states and yet to (at least remember) visit Portland (or Florida).
Moving in the end of the summer time, which from what I understand started very late, was very exciting to be able to see Portland in all its full glory.
The deep forest greens, the bright blues skys, all the fruit and flowers, everywhere. . . wild herbs and berries and nuts, growing around practically every little neighborhood. I highly recommend, if you are deciding to move to Portland, choose the summer time to do it (and I do highly recommend everyone to move out to this wonderful slice of paradise).

I have never lived in a Moishe House before, I was coming from living with my younger brother and our roommate. We all were working, paying bills, playing music and being with know, living life.

(I actually found out about Moishe House about two years prior, when it was out in Mar Vista, CA. I had visited once, which my sister-in-laws sister brought me to. It was great but everyone was about 10 yrs older and just at different stages of their lives)
When I had started to get more into Moishe House, my really good friend told me about an open mic and the new located Moishe House in LA, pretty close to where we were living at the time. We decided to go check it out and brought a couple of guitars. It was great, we met Moishe House members our own age and made some great music that night. Thats where I met my now roommate, Jonathan Morgan and Julie Auerbach (which in meeting people, you can tend to get a feeling like you have known them forever or from a previous time, thats what I have been getting with all of my roommates now, actually. I had been in acquaintance out in LA with my third roommate, Emly Oren, but it was only until I got to Portland that we had a conversation and got to know each other, also, feeling like we've have known each other since forever).

Now, I have only been to a hand full of actual Moishe House events out in LA but in meeting Jon, we kept in touch and really, got to know each other better with going to live music (specifically open blues jam nights - in particular - Maui Sugar Mill Saloon in Tarzana - Every Mon night, awesome music! just Awesome!).
One night, I had came late to an event, people were slowly leaving, and I was talking with Jon in the backyard. It was talking about how I do not want to be in Los Angeles anymore, dealing with the hustle/bustle, the smog, the traffic. . .blehh
He tells me about how he might be transferring to a Moishe House in ...Portland OR.
He tells me that he might be keeping a couple of people in mind if they would be interested in moving out and helping with a house out there.
I tell him to keep me in mind but that my life is pretty hectic with work and family.
I have to thank him for staying on top of getting back to me and with his reminders. . . excellent! Thank you my friend.
I remember when he actually made the move and would send me pictures of PDX and info on the city, telling me how wonderful it is and how it is something else, something completely not LA.
I felt as if, every time my life was getting more and more hectic, I would receive an email, text, and/or phone call reminding me about this..almost mystical place, Portland OR. !

Again, I had never lived in a Moishe House before but I feel as if life has prepared me to be able to be in the position I am currently in, a Moishe House member.
Growing up, we would have so many people in and out, all the time!
From borders to couch surfers, to children from broken homes to people who just felt lost and needed a place to sleep, I remember my parents accepting anyone and everyone that was looking for a place to be able to feel at home, even for a night.
I feel as if Moishe House is a wonderfully beautiful conduit in which to be able to help grow, teach and inspire the young Jewish community, anywhere and everywhere. In hosting events, I believe it is a way to get people attracted and involved, what we are really doing though is something so much more than that. Besides building community, I believe that each Jew we each come in contact with, in all of our Moishe House experiences (and I am talking about each house member, their own particular experiences and people they come in contact with), is one of the biggest gifts we can be given, we are able to connect and help to create that ignition of spark, that jewish spark within each of us. To be able to excite that spark and bring more light into the world is part of what Judaism is all about! I believe we are preparing the world for the Messiah! We are in these days!

So when life had calmed down a bit, and work had allowed me to move up to Portland, giving me the green light to work from home. I was definitely taken aback when the Thursday before I was leaving I get a letter of termination due to cut backs.
It was a very difficult and frustrating experience in dealing with work for the next couple of months. In short, I am now on unemployment, working side jobs to pay the rent and bills. I look at it as probably the best opportunity I have been given, I have been praying to be able to have more time to work on Music, I play the guitar and it is my first love. To be abe to have more time in the day to dedicate to writing and composing is something that is dear to my heart and I thank GOD for. Currently, I have been able to be given opportunities such as being a man nanny for two Jewish families in the community here in Portland, helping with hebrew school substituting every now and then, and with the local kosher catering company every so often. I believe though, that each step that has gotten me to where I am now has been and will keep coming from GOD. (Thank You!)

As for Portland, It is a place where I do keep falling in love with each day, there is something new and exciting. Meeting the wonderful people out here and being able to help with the young Jewish community is something that I find extremely enjoyable, to be able to be in a magical city, just makes it that much more enjoyable!

I look forward to blogging with you in the future and sharing stories of Divine Providence and non-coincidental occurrences, out here from the Great Pacific NW.

If you are every in Portland, please feel free to contact us and come see our house and participate in an events!

All the best, GOD Bless and be well.


Yossi Shallman

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Born on Mount Everest

I would like to share with you a story about Mount Everest. It's a story that I received from a mystical rabbi from Hebron.

A wealthy man decided that he wanted to climb Mount Everest. Having reached the pinnacle of success in business, a trek to the summit of Everest seemed a natural capstone for his adventures.

The man called to book a trip to Everest, but was denied.

"Mount Everest is the roughest place on Earth," the agent explained. "You need to be a highly skilled climber with years of training before you can even attempt Everest. Many men have died on their way to the top".

The man trained for seven years before he attempted to summit Everest. As the agent had originally suggested, it was the toughest battle of his life, but he made it to the top. He was exhausted, covered in North Face gear, and gasping for breath in his Oxygen tank, but he experienced a euphoria he had never known as he looked back at what he had achieved.

Suddenly, he noticed a bunch of children running around Everest. They were wearing plain clothes, throwing around a ball and laughing. The man thought he was delusional from the altitude, but the children didn't disappear.

"Why are you running around here?" the man asked the children. "Don't you know where you are? This is the top of Everest: the highest point in the world! Do you know how few people get to experience this?"

"What are you talking about?" answered the children. "We were born here."

As you well have noticed, this was not actually a story about Everest, but rather a parable about the modern-day experience of the Jewish people.

My generation was born on Mount Everest. The existence of the State of Israel has been a fact for my entire life. Most diaspora Jews live in countries where anti-Semitism is not an official government policy. Indeed, many Jews have reached high places of business, government, the arts, and nearly every other field.

The generation raised under this paradigm often has the mentality that all is well for the Jewish people -- or even that all is too well. As a result, we devote our talents and energies to (sometimes self-destructive) "Flavor-of-the-Month" activist causes.

Ironically, having been reared in the greatest modern time of prosperity for Jews has left us with poor historical perspective. We live in a world where it is not easy, and never has been, to be Jewish. We forget that 1948 was a moment nearly 2000 years in the making. We forget for how long and how many people have given their lives to make sure that we reached this moment. More specifically, the familial history of many families only goes back a few generations; we are not taught how Jews have spent the last 1000 years enduring pillagings, pogroms, torture, slavery, dhimmitude, and other unimaginable evils.

If we look a little bit farther afield we will see that indeed, we are standing atop Mount Everest. This is the moment that we have been waiting for, and now, more than ever, we need to be proud of who we are and step up our efforts to lead and support the Jewish people.

Evan R. - MH Palo Alto

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Woven Bridges

January 14th, 2012 was a milestone for me.  On this day, I was presented with a full set of shiny keys, kept busy hauling a seemingly endless number of boxes to our fourth floor apartment,  feverishly unpacked belongings, and frantically arranged, and then rearranged and rearranged again, all our eclectic furniture.  And so it was that Moishe House DUMBO was founded.  The culmination of over a year of dreaming and planning was consumated in the New York way: 2 pies of pizza on paper plates.  In the week that followed we held our inaugural Shabbat dinner.  As the familiar kiddush faded into the background, I gazed upon the 25 guests sourrounding my shabbat table, some of whom were strangers, some of whom were dear friends.  I took a sip of my first glass of wine in my new home and asked myself this question.  What is this Moishe House project anyway?

Amidst the hussle and bussle that is New York City, I often seek refuge in Brooklyn Bridge Park, conveniently located around the corner from our Moishe House.  The park is nestled on the banks of a windy stretch of the East River, hemmed in by the colossal shadows of two New York iconic bridges, the sturdy Brooklyn, and her less-heralded, but equally striking Manhattan.  I come out to the jagged rocks and frozen grass to clear my head and think.  In a strange way that perhaps only a cosmopolitan city dweller can understand, I find something soothing in the combined elements present in this park—the temperamental currents of the East River relentlessly engaging in battle with each other, the ebb and flow of meandering park strollers and tourists, the defeaning roar of the subways racing overhead. There is something static in the indefatigable dynamisms of the movement—water, wind, passersby, scurrying trains—that lends itself to an inner calm.

In this setting I contemplate; the to-do list of the day and coming weeks, insights gleened from a text sitting unfinished on my night-stand, strange occurences on the subway, and of course, the goals behind this Moishe House project to which I dedicate many waking hours.  One day, as the cool breeze kissed my cheek and the water lapped up against the rocks, I had an epiphany.  A response to this last curiosity was literally staring me in the face, right in front of my eyes. 

Moishe House DUMBO is about building bridges.  We sit together at a shabbat table, conduct a tu b’shevat seder, participate in the DUMBO gallery walk, listen to a lecture about Dewey’s pragmatist “Great Community,” because we yearn to foster connections.  We seek dialogue between our secular selves and our Jewish identity.  We want to join together in our love for art and modern culture, exploring the ways these forces speak to where we are from and who we are becoming.  We encourage all colors and flavors of Jews to visit us and we even wish to reach out to people of different faiths.  We welcome the the artsy and creative along side the suited and well-primmed.  We hope to integrate the right-brained among us with our left-brained counterparts.  We want to bring Manhattan to Brooklyn, and Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Of course Moishe House DUMBO will never boast an imposing shadow like those of the edifices that loom over my head.  But if the vision is clear, the leadership strong, and the community willing, I believe the sum of all the little connections fostered here will weave a mighty bridge, albeit an invisible one. 


Reppin the Motor City

Moishe House flat out gets it.

I have been living in the Detroit Moishe House for about seven months now, but I have been entrenched in the organized Jewish community’s struggle with engaging individuals in their 20s and 30s for a few years. For some reason they (the organized community) just do not understand that being Jewish means fundamentally different things for my generation. Israel is not relevant, traditional synagogues do not interest this demographic, and like it or not, there are more and more mixed religion and intra-cultural marriages. Further, the US Census estimates that by 2050, the majority of Americans will be minorities. We have one choice as American Jews, we can continue to resist these large macro trends that are out of our control and continue to push the next generation away, or we learn how to embrace these differences and give young people as many entry points to discover their Jewish identity on their own terms.

Moishe House allows for this to happen on so many different levels. Be Jewish however you want to be Jewish. What a novel idea? The idea is simple, the execution is relatively simple, but I am convinced David C. and the Moishe House in 30 years will be looked at as a major reason why the organized Jewish community will be successful in the long run. Friendships are made, relationships are started, and movements of young creative people are developed.

Beyond the philosophical aspect of Moishe House, when you look at inputs and outputs (inputs being financial resources put forth, outputs being the results and touchpoints of the inputs), nothing on the national (and even international) scale compares. I am honored to be a part of this innovative program and I hope the Moishe House organization and staff stays true to their roots to let us Moishe House residents create with limited oversight and structure. This is how the magic happens.

Jordan Wolfe, Motor City Moishe House

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Big Easy

My goal as a Moishe House resident is to create an inviting, inclusive, vibrant space for young Jews in New Orleans. This means designing exciting programming for folks with a wide range of interests. It also means plugging into and partnering with existing groups and spaces. The New Orleans Jewish community is small* but extremely active. Many synagogues offer deeply moving, deeply meaningful, truly intergenerational programming. Independent minyanim have sprung up to meet all kinds of needs; since moving here, I’ve been able to attend everything from an anti-racist to a body positive to a traditional egalitarian meditative Shabbat service. (That last sentence absolutely belongs in a Sh*t Progressive Jews Say video.) The Jewish community in New Orleans – as I’ve experienced it – is warm, welcoming, committed to celebration, open to new voices and ideas.

In this kind of community, it feels just as important to build relationships and form partnerships as it does to create our own events. We strive to be a gathering place for and connector to other Jewish individuals, groups and organizations. Rather than hungrily steering young folks away from other programs and toward our house, we exist and operate as part of a wider community. My roommates and I work to strike a balance between creating and hosting our own programming – cooking nights, creative writing workshops, text studies, film screenings– and partnering with other people and groups. This balance is what makes us such a strong and special space.

In the past couple months, Moishe House New Orleans co-led, with three other groups, a powerful Healing Shabbat. We partnered with a local synagogue on a musical Tu B'Shevat seder. We hosted a "Mini Taste of Limmud" event to generate interest in and excitement about LimmudFest New Orleans. (Guests chose between two compelling learning sessions: The Sociology of Contemporary American Jewish Life in D Minor and The Road is Long: LGBTQ Rights in Israel). These programs drew in new participants and deepened our relationship with the wider Jewish community. They were fun and engaging, meaningful and moving. My roommates and I will continue to design our own creative programming - and we'll continue to pursue rich community partnerships.

*The size of the New Orleans Jewish community depends on your frame of reference. When I moved here from rural Vermont, I was astounded by the size. My friends from bigger, more bustling cities were not.

Mallory Falk, MH NOLA

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tree hugging in DC

Next week Jews around the world, and here at the Moishe House in Washington, DC, will be celebrating Tu B'Shevat - the Jewish Arbor Day, if you will. Since I was young, I always looked forward to my community’s tradition of planting trees on this day, one in a park in the city, and another in Israel. I was always told that the intention was to imbue a sense of stewardship for our environment (weren’t biblical Jews environmentally progressive?), but recently discovered it has more to do with ancient tithing systems than a notion that we needed to protect and enhance the natural world.

Let me explain: Tu B’Shevat actually marks the “new year” for trees. For the first three years after a tree is planted, its fruit cannot be eaten. In the fourth year the fruit belongs to God (meaning it was tithed to the high priests in Jerusalem). In the fifth year you can go ahead and enjoy those apples.

However, Judaism has a strong tradition of environmental awareness and protection that we have connected to Tu B’Shevat, found within and outside of the Torah and Mishnah. Deuteronomy 20:19 famously reminds us that “man is a tree of the field” Since the early 20th century, Jews have used the day to plant trees and promote environmental awareness (as well as an excuse to enjoy olives, pomegranates, dates, and other fruits associated with the holiday) .

The tradition of environmental protection and awareness is one that we in the DC Moishe House are continuing. We are beginning to compost our food waste, trying to become more aware of how our choices as consumers have a real impact on the world, and ensuring that our environmental beliefs exist alongside our compassion for our fellow man, as we develop programming that addresses issues in the environment and our communities.