By Alyssa Gorenberg, Liza Moskowitz, and Leah Jalfon

Alyssa: Although it is snowy and freezing this time of year (in Chicago at least), I love wintertime because of the holidays! I think the most beautiful part is being able to share my own traditions and rituals with people around, maybe even exposing them to my culture for the first time. The Chicago Moishe House staff hosted a Hanukkah celebration at our co-working space complete with festive food, friendly faces, and of course a community Hanukkiah that could pass our fire safety policy. We welcomed our building mates upstairs to eat latkes and sufganiyot with us and asked them to share with us what has brought light into their lives this year. We were thrilled to be able to share the holiday joy and also meet so many friendly faces!

Things I learned:
  • Hook ‘Em: I was given 3 sentences to try to capture my audience which is usually what you have when you send a Facebook event invite or a text. Trying to be engaging, exciting, concise, and specific in 10 seconds is rough for me so I wish I had been more descriptive about what exactly we were going to do at my program.
  • Context is Key: My program had participants that were on the Judaism spectrum – some were Jewish and grew up observant to any sort of degree and some knew nothing about Judaism at all! When creating the activity with our community Hanukkiah, I was lucky that my co-worker pushed me to frame the activity with a Hanukkah 101 so any participants felt that they could contribute to the activity.
  • Delegate to Your Friends: I loved the opportunity to co-host with my co-workers, but it was important that I delegated roles and responsibilities. There was no way I could manage all parts of the program on my own, make sure that participants all felt welcomed, and enjoy the program! By assigning Liza, Ben, Sari and Larry to different parts of the program we all could engage with our participants, manage the details, and have fun.

Liza: The Chicago Federation Young Leadership Division puts on a large  fundraiser every year called The Big Event – dinner, drinks, and a fun performer. We wanted to bring friends together before The Big Event because it’s easy to get lost in the sea of 2,000+ people and not connect with the people you want to. I hosted a Shabbat bagel brunch with good food, friends, and vibes to kick off a fun day which led into a fun night!

 

Things I Learned:
  • Less is More: My worst fear is that my programs will run out of food. This often turns into me preparing way too much, airing on the side of wasteful. I need to be more realistic about how much food each person will eat and that should inform how much food I prep.
  • Get out of the Kitchen: I utilized every inch of countertop in my tiny kitchen for all the food (see lesson learned above for why this is a problem), so everyone congregated around the food leaving my entire living room open. I pushed everyone out of the kitchen to mingle with one another in the larger space. As a kid, I would watch my parents’ friends also get “stuck” in the kitchen during get-togethers, and I never understood why. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!  
  • Procrastination Nation: I had a lot of work to do to make this program happen like grocery shopping, making a bagel order, and cleaning. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it all done on Friday night and Saturday morning, so we had to plan ahead. My Saturday morning program preparation actually began on Tuesday of that week. Hosting is supposed to be fun, and I didn’t feel stressed about all the work that needed to happen because I didn’t procrastinate (for once in my life).

Leah: On Sunday 12/16, I hosted a “Queer Jews of the Queen City” brunch. Twelve people came, but I had only met five of them before the program – the rest were brand new! Many people expressed how important it was for them to have a space for queer Jews, and everyone was enthusiastic about continuing to program together. One person suggested a Purim party since it’s a fun opportunity for some gender-bending dress up!

Things I learned:
  • Make it happen. I’ve wanted to start this group for a long time, but I didn’t think there were enough queer Jews in my city to fill a room, and if there were, I didn’t know where to find them. If there’s a certain community you want, you’re probably not alone. So many people at my program said that they’ve also been wanting a queer Jewish community. The worst things that could happen are that no one shows up, or that you don’t connect with the people who do, but I believe it’s worth the risk.
  • Talk to strangers. This program was different in that I was creating a brand new group. I went to my rabbi, a great ally to the LGBTQ+ community, who gave me a list of names and emails of people she thought would be interested. I sent them the event description (which I tried to make light and funny and mention the food that would be served), and asked if they’d like me to send the Facebook invite. I was so pleasantly surprised that every single person replied with enthusiasm for this and future gatherings.
  • Prioritize the people. Our menu was bomb: homemade challah, cheese blintzes, egg soufflé, quiche, fruit, and hash browns. We wanted to make challah french toast as well, but we didn’t have enough time. I grated the potatoes for the hash browns an hour before the program, so they were an awful grey color. I made the egg soufflé the day before, but I didn’t get to reheat it long enough before guests arrived. I was stressing about this for almost the whole program until I realized that people didn’t care, there was still plenty of great food, and everyone was having fun. I wish I could have been fully present and calm the whole time.

We would love to hear about the lessons you’ve learned from your programs. Email us any time, all the time at withoutwalls@moishehouse.org.

-Leah, Liza, and Alyssa