The inception of the recently-inaugurated Beersheba Moishe House is similar to the founding of the first-ever Moishe House in Oakland, California. It was born out of the efforts of a small group of passionate, dedicated youths opening their home to create a sense of community and strengthen Jewish identity.
Just as the very first Moishe House began with four Jewish 20-somethings hosting Shabbat dinners, the Beersheba House began with four bright-eyed young Israelis – and their dog – trying to build bridges between different parts of the city’s population.
House resident Itay Itamar first stumbled across the Moishe House concept in Melbourne, Australia, in the summer of 2012.
“There was a post-Passover baking session that a local told me about,” he recounts.
Back in Israel, he accidentally found himself at the Jerusalem Moishe House, located in the city’s Nahlaot neighborhood.
“It was a Hanukka party. They had a hanukkia made out of Red Bull cans. Loads of people stopped by and I thought, We need this in Beersheba” he tells The Jerusalem Post as he sits around the living-room table of the Beersheba Moishe House he had envisioned.
He is joined by two community members, Yotam Rechnitz and Adi Treves. The former is busy in the kitchen, preparing platters of vegetables and fruit in honor of our meeting. He doesn’t live in the house, but the other two point out that this is characteristic of the sense of communal effort they have built there.
“Everyone chips in any way they can,” Treves explains.
It took a while for the Beersheba house to formally become part of the Moishe House organization, but in the meantime, Itamar and three fellow activists laid its foundations.
In October 2015, the quartet – three of whom are students at the city’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev – rented a house and started hosting Friday night dinners, parties and lectures several times a month.
“We were people who did this type of stuff anyway, so we decided to live together and do it,” says Itamar.
They named the place after the guide dog they were fostering – Zoe’s House. Moishe House representatives came to visit, consulted with them and asked them to meet with potential donors.
Zoe’s House quickly gained traction, and the residents’ dream of transforming their humble house into a place where everyone felt at home began to take shape.
“I would walk in the street and hear people talking about it,” Itamar says.
In June, Zoe’s House officially became a Moishe House in collaboration with the American Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU), with support from the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation. The connection between Moishe House and AABGU was made through a mutual board member, Jaynie Schultz, of Dallas, Texas.
“I feel so privileged to be involved with two outstanding organizations,” says Schultz, who has been a supporter of Moishe House from the very beginning. “The opportunity presented by this joint initiative will make the outcome exponential.”
Alejandro Okret, Moishe House’s chief global officer, adds: “We want to continue saying ‘yes’ to helping meet the demand for peer-led, home-based programming for young adults and their Jewish communities in the state of Israel.”
The Moishe House model sees residents opening their home five to six times a month for communal activities, in return receiving a partial rent stipend and a programming budget, along with training and staff support.
“My hope is that our Moishe House will be a home for everybody that comes to visit us in our community, whether you are from Israel or abroad,” says resident Tal Megera.
“I want our home to be a welcoming place that can show young people cool and new sides of Judaism.”
Israeli Moishe Houses serve a different function than those in the Diaspora, where finding a Jewish community to connect with might be difficult. Nonetheless, the Beersheba residents and community members feel that their Moishe House fills a vacuum.
“Because of technology, our generation looks for community, to sit with people at the end of the day...
a community that’s open to everyone, girls, guys, religious, secular, locals, internationals.” says Treves.
“In general, people are alone,” he says. “They work alone in front of a computer, so then you look for a framework to just sit around the table with people.”
Beersheba is known for its large student community, but Itamar says there is a desire to socialize beyond the university setting.
“If students want do things inside the university, they can,” he adds,”but this house connects both students and non-students. My vision is that the walls between students and non-students will fall.”
The young adults also note that in addition to a social platform, the house provides the community with content, be it lectures on spirituality, Jewish learning, songwriting workshops, yoga or talks by politicians and city leaders. Each resident brings his or her own interests to the Moishe House, making for a diverse range of activities.
“It’s a Jewish community, and when we have non-Jews come for Friday night dinner, it shows them the warm, open, embracing side of Judaism,” says Rechnitz. “Moishe House deals with Judaism in a pluralistic way and, I think, is special and rare.”
The Beersheba Moishe House crowd has ranged from Breslov Hassidim to atheists.
“The idea of Moishe House is to make a connection to Judaism, and to make it fun,” Treves adds earnestly.
“We create fun activities around the Jewish calendar. Moishe House allows you to do something positive and challenging in your life.”
They also note that it’s a non-profit endeavor, so those who are strapped for cash don’t need to think twice before attending.
Moishe House activities are not restricted to the 20s and 30s crowd.
Ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, for instance, it hosted roundtable discussions with Holocaust survivors.
Residents and community members also step outside the house and volunteer for others. To celebrate one of the residents’ birthdays, they painted a women’s shelter. They look for ways to volunteer, and take on the Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
“There are a lot of young people here who want to take responsibility and help change the city,” emphasizes Rechnitz.
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