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Moishe’s in da House!

June 3, 2012 – 7:17 pm13 Comments

Building a Sukkah at Moishe House Chicago

By David Werdiger

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.


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  • Ittay says:

    Good on AJF for supporting the creation of a Moishe House. I think it’s “for the youth, by the youth” philosophy is exactly what this town needs in regards to our approach to providing meaningful Jewish gatherings for this age group. Yishar Koach to all involved.

  • letters in the age says:

    Nice stuff

    Student centred learning is the way to go!!


  • Benji Holzman says:

    Moishe House rocks! So excited that this exciting project is making its way down to Melbourne, at long last.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Great work, David.

    I echo Ittay’s sentiments — and it’s incredible no Moishe House has yet germinated here, particularly since the Schustermann Foundation puts on ROI (www.roicommunity.org), to which a number of Australians have travelled. Myself included.

    Aside from Moishe House, could you explain what else AJF has in the pipeline, who apart from yourself is involved, and how funding is accessed? I’m sure a number of readers would share my curiosity.



  • Daniel Levy says:

    David, surely you should be targeting them when they’re even younger!

    If I were you, and my target were to keep the Jewish dream alive, I’d take my inspiration from:


    It’s certainly the most effective way of keeping the youth reined in. Hope I was of help! :)

  • Jonny says:

    Good work Dave! It’s a really interesting concept… So who runs the show and monitors the success? Is that also young adults? Or some sort of board?

    In the youth movements which is also peer based, there is still a shaliach type role.

  • The Moishe House international coordinator work with the residents, and they have also done extensive research and monitoring into its effectiveness in meeting its goals. I’ve asked some of the staff to join this discussion and provide more details.

    Because this is for young adults, primarily post university, it’s very peer driven so there doesn’t appear to be a “shaliach” role. For this residents, this is excellent leadership development.

  • Joel says:

    Really happy to chime in here. I’m the Regional Director for the international Moishe Houses, which means I work as a staff liaison for residents of the houses outside the USA.

    In answer to Jonny’s questions, David is right. I have regular skype calls with the residents to stay in touch and take care of any issues and questions they have for Moishe House the organisation.

    There is no official shaliach role, though we try to visit the houses at least once or twice each year.

    The residents themselves are in charge of what events they do and how they are conducted, so long as they regularly hit our four programming categories: Jewish Learning, Jewish Culture and Holidays, Social, and Repair the World. It’s the residents themselves who are the experts. We are here to help and support the community they create.

    In terms of peer leadership, one of the great things about Moishe House as a wider organisation is that our staff reflect the demographic of the residents and participants they host. The vast majority of our staff team our themselves in their 20s and, at 32, I am the second oldest staff member (the oldest is 33)! You can see more about us here: http://www.moishehouse.org/staff.asp

    Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • Jonny says:

    thanks for the info Joel… I find it very interesting times right now where people of that age both want to be actively involved but want to be the captains of their own ship… Joel is there stats about wether this Mosel stengrhens ordestroys their interest in joining established or larger community centres. It could be a real challenge to traditional centres.

    Daniel if you start the first Moishe house I’ll come to your first event on “indoctrination: the dos and donts”!

  • Joel says:

    I love the questions you’re asking Jonny!

    We recently completed a two year external evaluation conducted by The TCC Group, measuring the effect of Moishe House on both residents and participants.

    The findings show that involvement in Moishe House raises the bar for Jewish community in the area across the board, not just in the Moishe House. Residents want to take on leadership roles in Jewish life outside of Moishe House. According to The TCC Group, “This finding suggests that Moishe House’s model of empowering residents as leaders could be a pipeline for future Jewish organizational professionals and leaders.”

    In addition, the percentage of participants who say they participate in local activities for young adults other than Moishe House events went from 43% before becoming involved to 72% at the time of the survey, after their involvement with Moishe House.

    From my own experience as a former resident of Moishe House London I can say that the Moishe House model provides a challenge to traditional centres, but it’s a challenge they have taken on and learned from, benefitting from partnerships and collaborations with the Moishe House and from the residents’ and participants’ increased interest in Jewish life.

    You can find The TCC group’s Moishe House evaluation executive summary and charts here: http://www.moishehouse.org/evaluation.asp

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Jonny, naturally my talk would be a bit more simple than what you propose. It would simply be “Indoctrination: Don’t.”

  • Andrew,

    Unlike ROI Community, Moishe Houses are mostly funded locally. AJF is taking a role in reaching out to potential funders to help get things off the ground.

    We will be publishing further as we are able to confirm additional projects, and as the structures we are developing to do all of this take shape. I know that’s an evasive answer, but it’s prudent to wait until we can announce firm and funded projects rather than raise expectations, and we must also co-ordinate communication with partners.

    This whole thing is an initiative of AJF, and other AJF directors and members are involved. The feedback we have received thus far from both younger people and prospective funders has us all very excited!

    Last night’s video conference with the David Cygielman, CEO of MH, and Joel who is the regional director was attended by a dozen or so “under 30s” (that’s what we like to call them), and it was a great forum for prospective residents to learn about what it might be like to live in an MH. Applications are open, and there are several groups of people in Melbourne who are in the process of preparing their applications.

    I hope people continue the discussion either here or at http://www.facebook.com/AJF.Innovation

  • Jonny says:

    Thanks Joel… Good stuff!

    Daniel, as with all your expressions that talk would be fascinating! I think you should title it something truly ironic like… “being closed minded… Don’t even think about it!!”. As always a delight buddy!!

    So come on Dave… Get Daniel into a Moishe house!!

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