Moishe’s in da House!
The topic of next generation Jewish engagement continues to raise its head, following the important report last year arising from the Gen08 community survey, which gave some clear indications of some of the drivers of Jewish identity and continuity.
The report pointed out that “the current mix of institutions will not satisfy future needs”. Elsewhere in the world, a rising generation of young adults are reshaping old ideas and building new institutions in the Jewish community and beyond. However locally, despite the talk and the buzz, progress has been limited.
Australian Jewish Funders (AJF), drawing inspiration from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation(USA), is taking a leading role in helping to facilitate more of this activity in Australia. AJF is a peer network of funders who gather to learn from each other, strengthen the network that shares a vision of engaged philanthropy and fosters a culture of giving that reflects our Jewish and personal values. The Schusterman Foundation is one of the leading Jewish foundations in the USA, whose vision is to empower young Jews to create Jewish life, strengthen global Jewish communities, connect with the state of Israel, and repair the world.
Our first cab off the rank is Moishe House, a program aimed at helping to provide meaningful Jewish experiences for young adults. Founded in 2006, it has grown from four friends hosting Shabbat dinners in California to 46 Moishe Houses in 14 countries. Last year it served over 50,000 attendees, delivering a diverse range of low-barrier religious, cultural and social events.
The proposition of Moishe House to prospective residents is simple: they will subsidise your rent and the cost of activities, and in return, you run 5-7 Jewish activities out of the house each month for your peers. Moishe House does not own the house; the residents must find a suitable rental property, and enter into a lease directly. The houses do not operate as a hostel; the residents live there as they normally would, and they go about their regular days. As Moishe House residents, they must augment this by running activities and programs.
What sorts of activities? It’s anything from Shabbat dinners to group learning, social and cultural events. Moishe House is non-denominational and pluralistic – each house has the flexibility to service the peers of the residents in an appropriate manner, subject to the broad guidelines of the organisation. There are even cities with two Moishe Houses – one secular and one Orthodox with a kosher kitchen and full Shabbat services – and they work together effectively.
Their web site describes the houses as “peer-based Jewish communities for young adults”. The term “peer-based” is very important. It’s quite clear that younger people have an almost natural rejection of traditional Jewish organisations and their structures. The Moishe House concept gives young people the latitude and autonomy to find their own expressions of Jewishness and to use this to connect with their peers. Their analysis shows that this model leads to measurable increases in engagement on the part of both residents and participants.
Can such a thing work in Melbourne?
The program originated in the US and targets young people in the “post-college” stage of their lives – the important years between university and marriage. In the US, a large proportion of university students live on campus and away from home, and while there, their Jewish needs are serviced by Hillel and Chabad. When they leave, there is an obvious void, which Moishe House seeks to fill. Australian expat Dan Kandy has lived in the Moishe House in Washington DC for six months. While Washington, with a large population of upwardly mobile transient workers, is very different Jewish community to Melbourne, Dan feels a local Moishe House would “… give young Jews a chance to lead and learn from each other in a very different space than any offered in the Melbourne Jewish community.”
Young adult engagement has also been a hot topic for Australian Jewish Funders (AJF). Our annual forum in 2008 featured this as the major topic for discussion, and the issue keeps coming up. We’ve had enough of the talk-fest; we are collectively taking the next step: AJF is working with Moishe House to help open a house in Melbourne, hopefully before the end of 2012.
Our annual conference in August will feature representatives of the Schusterman Foundation, talking about this and other initiatives all related to next generation Jewish engagement. Extending the Australian Jewish philanthropic network with these global Jewish innovators has our creative energies flowing, and there is more in the pipeline. So watch this space – we look forward to announcing further projects very soon!
David Werdiger is a founding director of AJF, an organisation that promotes strategic and effective philanthropy through education and networking. For more information about our local initiatives around Jewish continuity, please contact AJF’s Executive Officer Tracie Olcha, and/or join our Facebook page and tell us what you think.