SEATTLE — When Raphael Ginsburg, 23, moved to Seattle in January, he knew only one person in the city. Eight months later, he feels like he’s part of the Seattle community, thanks to Moishe House.
Knowing there were other young Jewish professionals here who shared his experiences helped make his transition easier.
“That was a big deal, having that instant community, that instant group of friends that I can associate with,” said Ginsburg, who moved into Moishe House after a friend put him in contact with a fellow University of Maryland graduate who was living in the house.
Moishe House is an international nonprofit organization that aims to help young Jewish adults feel connected with their communities and traditions. The seed for the organization was planted in 2006 by four housemates in Oakland, Calif., who would occasionally invite their friends over for Shabbat dinners on Fridays. According to director of marketing and communications Jason Boschan, their first dinner was attended by 72 people. Ten years later, Moishe House has 89 houses in 21 countries. The Seattle Moishe House, the 77th location, opened last September.
Those who would like to become residents may either apply to join an existing house or establish a new one. The houses themselves, which have three to five residents, are subsidized by the organization; in return, residents must host five to seven events each month to engage the local Jewish community. These events may be of a secular nature — yoga sessions and outdoor excursions appear regularly on Seattle Moishe House’s calendar — but they may also be in observance of holidays such as Shavuot, the harvest festival.
Seattle Moishe House’s first event in August was a food-culture night where the residents discussed the role of fermented foods in Jewish culture. Like all Moishe House events, it was a lively affair, attended by about 25 visitors — less than half as many as a typical Shabbat dinner turnout, but enough people to fill the living room. Residents caught up with their friends from outside the house, making plans for after the event; one guest talked about his recent trip to Israel. Meanwhile, Ginsburg shared his assortment of self-brewed beers while housemate Ze’ev Gebler, 25, chopped up cabbage for a lecture on how to pickle vegetables.
Gebler is one of the more recent additions to the house, having joined in July. He moved to Seattle eight months ago from the Boston area, where his friends in the Boston Moishe House spoke highly of the experience. Gebler said that if Seattle — which had a Jewish population of 63,400 in 2014, according to a survey by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle — hadn’t already had a Moishe House, he would have started one.
“I can speak as someone who came into an event just as a community member because I wanted to tap into a community,” Gebler said. “It was just a very genuine energy … people that were excited to put on events and people that were happy to have this opportunity, and that’s contagious.”
Moishe House’s residents value the experience for two reasons. The first is simple and relatable: moving to a new city is a momentous transition, and being able to move into a pre-existing community provides a support system. Tanya Fink, 24, was one of Seattle Moishe House’s first residents.
“It’s been really amazing to see how people have taken advantage of it, brought their friends, and spread the word,” Fink said. “I think that’s how we’ve reached 400 (Facebook) likes and 60 people at a Shabbat dinner, because we’re really filling a need specifically for young Jews moving to cities.”
The second reason is more complicated. Boschan explained that Jewish communities invest in the family unit through institutions such as Hebrew schools and Hillel Houses. This, Boschan said, inadvertently creates a “void” where Jewish people between childhood and parenthood “become a bit disconnected from the Jewish world” — and it’s why Moishe House focuses on young adults.
“Moishe House really helps fill that gap for young adults in their twenties,” Boschan said.
It also helps fill the gap for newcomers of all ages to the community. Moshe (Jeff) Admon, 39, moved to Seattle earlier in the summer to establish his own law firm. Admon, an Israeli American, recalled a “roaming Moishe House” at the University of Arizona, where he graduated from law school in 2015. Upon arriving in Seattle, he checked to see if there was a Moishe House. His visit to the Seattle Moishe House for the food-culture night was his first.
“It’s just a warm and welcoming community from what I’ve gathered in the last two hours …,” he said. “It’s a way to bring people together in an age where it’s very difficult to connect.”