At Hoboken’s Moishe House, three’s company, but the doors are always open for a crowd. Besides being the home of three friends – Joshua Einstein, Shira Huberman, and David Rosen, as well as a playful white ferret named Perry – the house is an experimental center for a self-led group of post-collegiate Jews in their 20s and early 30s.
The goal of the grassroots movement is to establish Jewish communities around the world while offering young Jews new ways to create cultural programs and participate in Jewish life.
|The residents of Hoboken’s Moishe House – from left, David Rosen, Joshua Einstein, and Shira Huberman – are seeking to create ‘an alternative Jewish space.’|
The project originated on the West Coast, the brainchild of Morris Bear Squire, a.k.a. “Moishe,” a retired psychologist and artist, and David Cygielman, executive director of The Forest Foundation, a philanthropic organization devoted to social activism. The founders noticed a gap in the Jewish community – specifically, young Jews who had moved beyond the camaraderie of the college campus but were not yet interested in settling down and joining a synagogue.
According to Einstein, Moishe House creates an alternative Jewish space. While the atmosphere is in keeping with the youth-driven Hoboken scene, it is also decidedly Jewish in spirit.
“I think shul is often times the default place where people assert their [Jewish] identity,” said Einstein. “Plenty of times, we have discussions about what’s going on in the Jewish world. Lots of our events are Shabbat dinners, which are inherently Jewish events, and eating lots of food.”
Einstein reported that between 15 and 20 people regularly attend the Hoboken dinners, and that Jews and non-Jews alike are welcome. (Perry, the ferret, enjoys a private Shabbat meal in his cage.)
According to foundation guidelines, Moishe House residents are required to plan community programs and host from eight to 12 functions per month. The members receive a stipend to cover event costs as well as a partial subsidy for rent. The first Moishe House opened in January 2006 in California, and the organization has since established 27 houses in nine countries, some as far away as Beijing and Buenos Aires.
Jeremy Moskowitz, East Coast regional director of Moishe House, reported that the organization’s growth has propelled it into 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
“Now we are funded mostly by the Center for Leadership Initiatives, which is part of the Schusterman Fellowship for Jewish Community,” he said, noting that smaller foundations and private donors contribute as well.
“We want to open houses in other cities,” Moskowitz continued, “but we just aren’t able to at this point. People are welcome to donate to houses on the local level. It does help the larger organization.”
In October 2008, Moishe House Hoboken joined more than 20 other Moishe House communities across the U.S. and abroad to celebrate “Shabbat Around the World.” Since this event fell during Sukkot, many groups held their dinners outdoors in sukkahs. At the Hoboken location, however, there was no room on the deck for a booth.
Still, the absence of a sukkah did not detract from the holiday ambience. According to event organizers, Moishe House’s roof and walls – along with the enthusiasm of the attendees inside – provided both shelter and structure for participants.
Einstein said Moishe House is premised on the notion of building community on a broad scale. The Hoboken group recently collaborated with Moishe Houses from Philadelphia and Silver Spring, Md., to organize a camping trip at Allumuchy State Park in northwestern New Jersey.
Other activities have included hiking, watching presidential debates, movie outings, and hosting political and cultural discussions. Moishe House Hoboken even has an event planned for Christmas – a skiing trip. Said Einstein, “Christmas is a great time because nobody is on the road.”
While the dinners served at Moishe House are kosher and Shabbat protocol is maintained, the levels of observance and practice vary greatly among Moishe House residents and guests.
“I personally don’t really go to shul,” said Huberman, a full-time graduate student pursuing early childhood education and special education at Touro College. “My family is Conservative. I go [to shul] on the holidays with my parents, but on my own, I don’t go. There are a lot of people like me who don’t want to become a member of a synagogue,” she added.
Her apartment mate and childhood friend, Rosen, sometimes attends services at Hoboken’s Conservative synagogue and was once active in the choir.
“Sure, people go to shul,” Einstein acknowledged. “But in my opinion, [Moishe House] is a place for young Jews who want to hang out who aren’t necessarily attracted to a shul environment. At the end of the day, we are all members of the tribe.”