A Jewish Place To Call Home [Jewish Independent]

[Below is another article I wrote for the local Jewish weekly, about the opening of the Vancouver Moishe House]

Vancouver joins other cities in opening a Moishe House.

Lifecycle events in a Jewish community – birth, bar or bat mitzvah, marriage, and having children of one’s own and starting the cycle over again – used to leave little time for individuals to “fall between the cracks.” In modern times, however, with marriage and starting a family coming later and later after a bar or bat mitzvah, there is a noticeable gap, accentuated by the fact that most young adults travel, whether for post-secondary education, pleasure or work. As a result, it can be difficult to find a community for a young 20-something Jews who, while potentially interested in being connected to the Jewish world, finds few opportunities to do so.

Working to provide an antidote to that problem is Moishe House, an “international network of vibrant, peer-based Jewish communities of young adults,” founded in 2006, which serves both the Jewish and the broader social needs of young adults in cities around the world.

The goal, according to Baruch Huberman, a resident of Vancouver’s Moishe House and a native Vancouverite, is “bringing people together, educating them about Judaism, connecting them to other Jewish organizations and providing a home for them in Vancouver.” Established this May, Vancouver’s Moishe House, the first house in Canada and one of 36 around the world, is supported by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, with young adult program manager Noam Dolgin providing what Huberman called a “mentorship role,” as well as practical help with programs to get the house started. Moishe House is currently home to four young people.

Finding the residents was the easy part. Three of them, Rotem Tal from Israel, Jacob Haas from Portland and Huberman, already lived together. Kiki Lipsett from San Francisco joined them soon after. After completing the application process, which involved essay questions, a short video of each applicant and references, the residents were given approval to join the house in spring of this year and set about looking for a location. They found one just east of Main Street on 20th Avenue, and they have wasted no time in working towards becoming a hub of Jewish young adult life in the city.

In May alone, their first month of operation, Moishe House hosted an open house to familiarize people with the location, had a potluck Shabbat dinner attended by more than 45 people, had a barbecue at Queen Elizabeth Park, hiked in Deep Cove and hosted a games night.

Huberman is most impressed with the fact that each event held so far has brought out new faces. “So it seems like there’s a really great potential for this community,” he said about Moishe House’s role in filling a niche that was missing. In June, there were plans for a gardening event, a 100-mile, local Shabbat dinner in partnership with Beth Israel, an introductory kabbalah class with Rabbi Binyomin Bitton of Chabad of Downtown, a poker night and a Loaves of Love event (with the Ohel Ya’akov Community Kollel), where each participant bakes two loaves of challah, one to keep and one that is donated to a family in need.

As Huberman sees it, “the goal is the same for all the Jewish organizations, to build a stronger community.” To that end, Moishe House seeks to partner with other local organizations, hoping that those who attend their events not only find a community of people their age with common interests and goals, but that they are also exposed to the more traditional Jewish organizations, which might otherwise have seemed to be unwelcoming.

So why become involved with such a project? “It seemed like a really fun idea; affordable living. It makes living in Vancouver feasible and it gave me a chance to live with a bunch of my friends, which I wanted to do anyways,” Huberman told the Independent. Huberman also saw the demographic need as an important cause. As a soon-to-be graduate of Simon Fraser University, where he was the president of Hillel, Huberman was aware of the dearth of organizations catering to his age group.

Given all the promise, however, the reality of establishing a new avenue to explore Judaism is not easy, especially because each resident – and many of the perspective guests – come to the table with different values. Huberman related how it was not easy to agree to the values Moishe House would promote most, or to delegate tasks such that all were involved and satisfied with the results.

More challenging still was where Moishe House would be situated religiously. Given that the goal is to be a hub for Jewish young adults of all stripes, Moishe House does not align itself with a particular denomination or synagogue. While no religious services have been held at the house yet, Huberman envisions such services, if they happen, as being egalitarian in nature. And issues such as kashrut have also been met with a pragmatic solution. Since some residents keep strictly kosher, while others do not, each resident makes the arrangements necessary to satisfy his or her own religious needs. And because, in hosting Jewish events, Moishe House does not want to exclude anyone, there is always a kosher-food option – this posed the problem of using disposable plates and cutlery, a practice that clashes with other values (namely environmental consciousness) held by the residents, and so a separate set of dishes was purchased.

The positives far outweigh the challenges, said Huberman. “The most exciting part is meeting all these new people, who I didn’t even know lived here,” he said. He is also excited at the prospect of having Moishe House be an avenue for more serious Jewish reflection. Huberman said he sees Moishe House as being as much about Jewish education as about “purely” social events. All types of events will continue to be offered, but the uniqueness of having an organization that is dedicated to providing classes on Jewish topics is exciting to residents. According to Huberman, there are plans to attend a retreat in Berkeley, Calif., at the end of the summer, hosted by Moishe House, which would focus on helping each individual house make the chaggim (Jewish holidays) meaningful and spiritually uplifting.

While each of the residents is involved in their own lives, either in school or working full time, each values the part-time-job nature of running the house.  As the publicity material reads, “Imagine four Jewish 20-something roommates creating a home that becomes a hub of Jewish activity for young adults coordinating and hosting events for other Jewish young adults. That’s Moishe House.” Huberman also sees room to coordinate future activities with Hillel, when the school year is underway in the fall. “Our demographic is pretty much 20 to 30, stressing post-university. There is a natural segue between Hillel and us,” he explained.

For more information, visit moishehouse.org. To be added to the Moishe House e-mail list, e-mail moishehousevancouver@gmail.com.

See the original article online at http://www.jewishindependent.ca/cover/index.html#one

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s