Two Moishe House DC residents prepare for Shabbat dinner.
What happens to Jewish college students when they graduate and leave their Hillels behind? Moishe Houses are one answer.
Initiated by the Forest Foundation, and the Center for Leadership Initiatives, Moishe Houses are a group of homes throughout the world that serve as centers for young adult Jewish communities.
“The idea is to give young Jewish adults a space to create events and programming for their peers and build a post-college Jewish community in their area,” said Levi Felix, Moishe House director of operations. “It’s otherwise hard to find a space for that.”
The Moishe House program began in 2005 with the establishment of two houses in Northern California and has since expanded to 14 communities across four continents.
“Interested individuals either apply to open a house in a specific city or we pick out locations where we think one is needed,” said Felix. “We are constantly adding to our list.”
Adam Cramer, a 24-year-old University of California, Berkeley alum, moved into the Washington, D.C. House in October of last year with three of his childhood friends.
“We went into it together for several reasons,” said Cramer. “One, we are given financial incentives to do this. Two, we have community organizing experience and love meeting people and showing them a good time.”
In exchange for hosting approximately 6-12 events per month, making weekly reports and maintaining a Web site, each Moishe House receives a sizeable rent subsidy and programming budget.
“We work with each house to come up with an budget that’s right for them,” said Felix. “A house in a small city, where three or four events meets the needs of the community, would be allocated a different amount than a house in a bigger city.”
Other than that, Moishe House residents are on their own and given the freedom to do things they are interested in.
At the Washington, D.C. house, Shabbat is the key event.
“We host three or four a month, drawing around 35 people a week,” said Cramer.
Other events include Hebrew and Arabic lessons, happy hour get-togethers, game and movie nights, holiday parties, trips to museums and more.
“We like to think our guests are as essential to the Moishe House as we are,” Cramer continued. “If there is something they’d like to see us do, they can tell us and we do it.”
Although a lot of work goes into being in Moishe House, residents are not exclusively obligated to their responsibilities as part of it.
“By subsidizing a portion of the rent, we are giving the residents opportunities to have jobs outside of the house, something they want to do,” said Felix.
Cramer, an associate at a nonprofit community investment organization, is not sure he would be able to do what he is doing without the rent subsidy.
Based on the success of the Moishe House concept, and as part of a long-term strategy to connect Jewish students worldwide, Hillel has teamed up with the Forest and Polinger Family Foundations to open Moishe Houses in London and Paris in the next year.
“[The Forest Foundation has] worked with Hillel on other programs,” said Felix. “We are hoping to see how to better work with college-aged students and combine forces to open up houses faster.”
In the eight months the Washington, D.C. has been in existence, Cramer and his roommate have been enjoying themselves.
“We love inviting people into our home, meeting new people, developing interesting relationships and giving them meaningful Jewish experiences.”
For more information about Moishe House or the Forest Foundation, visit www.hillel.org/about/global/moishehouse.htm