Moishe House was founded on the notion of creating vibrant Jewish homes and experiences where young adults from the full spectrum of Jewish life and backgrounds find community, learning, and leadership. To that end, we maintain a strict policy of providing space and programming that is welcoming of and open to all, regardless of political opinion or religious expression. We do not always have to agree, but we must, always, seek to engage in dialogue that is as respectful as it is constructive.
By David Cygielman, Moishe House Founder & CEO
Like many individuals, communities, and organizations across the world, we at Moishe House are facing the challenges of political and social polarization. The reality of this came into sharper view this past July, when what began as a series of internal disagreements at one of our houses between existing residents and a new housemate escalated into a violation of Moishe House policy stating that Moishe Houses are spaces of community and comfort regardless of political affiliation.
We took several days in late July to carefully review the situation and starting on August 1, began to take steps and make changes in order not only to mitigate and rectify the situation directly before us, but also to learn and grow as an organization. We believe that it’s important to be transparent about that process, while also respecting the privacy of those involved as best we can.
Our first step, on August 1, was to suspend programming at the Moishe House pending further review. As the most recently-arrived resident had already begun the process of relocating to another city, we stepped in to cover all the financial costs associated with the move. We also communicated clearly to the former resident that we hoped they would continue to participate in Moishe House’s programming and opportunities. Throughout the rest of that month, we discussed the situation with the Moishe House residents, focusing on their violation of Moishe House policy even as we assessed the suitability of this house continuing to be a part of the Moishe House system.
The residents engaged fully with the Moishe House team, acknowledging that they had mishandled the conflict and taking responsibility for their policy violation. We made it clear that if they wanted to continue to be a part of Moishe House, they would need not only to acknowledge their responsibility but also commit to a series of actions. We required them to re-sign and recommit to the resident handbook; sign a Memorandum of Understanding in which they committed to building a home where a wide spectrum of political beliefs and backgrounds may thrive; and receive ongoing training in constructive dialogue development, to build the skill set necessary for successful learning and growth. The residents agreed to all of the above stipulations verbally and in writing.
While all of the potential outcomes were considered – including closing the house and removing the residents – we ultimately decided that as an organization focused on developing young adults, we should offer the residents an opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve on their Jewish Leadership journey. With this opportunity comes the responsibility and expectation to become better, stronger Jewish leaders.
Early in the fall, we began the process of identifying the most appropriate training not only for the residents but also for the organization as a whole. Though we fully expected these residents to take responsibility for their actions, Moishe House itself needed also to learn from the circumstances and take responsibility.
The residents of the Moishe House in question have begun their work with OpenMind, an educational platform designed to depolarize communities and foster mutual understanding across differences, and we have made the training mandatory for Moishe House’s program team as well; a version of the training will also be brought to resident training conferences.
Throughout this process, the Moishe House Program Team is continually reviewing our process and developing specific changes in how Moishe House communicates with residents and works on these types of issues, both now and in the future.
The events of last summer are unfortunate and can be avoided in the future with enhanced training and policy. The policies that were violated exist because we know that welcoming diversity of thought and finding ways to engage in constructive dialogue are absolutely vital to Moishe House’s mission. In having to grapple with those events, Moishe House as an organization is growing and evolving to successfully live and support our values.
At a time of such extreme polarization, we believe that the work we do at Moishe House is more vital than ever. This is a generation of young leaders who need our investment in building the skills to bridge their differences. We are committed to being a place where this training and growth takes place, with our volunteers and staff.