By Terry Wunder, Senior Program Director
There is a common feeling that MHWOW hosts share — it’s the “Am I just out here on my own trying to create Jewish community?” feeling. At October’s North American Training Conference, aka Natty Con, hosts from New York, Washington DC, South Florida, and California traded stories about how they sometimes feel like they’re out there creating these Jewish experiences all alone.
A host from Nashville, Tennessee chimed in, “Yeah, I definitely know that feeling too!”
If #NattyCon18 taught us anything, it’s that each one of the 40 hosts and over 200 Moishe House residents in attendance are not alone, but in fact, are part of a massive network of almost 1,000 Moishe House community builders worldwide who are all trying to create their own Jewish communities by gathering young people together, and they are actually making major impacts on their participants and the larger Jewish community.
Natty Con brings together MHWOW hosts and residents from across the continent to learn, play, and build relationships in a beautiful, albeit rainy, camp setting. Natty Con is a place to explore new Shabbat experiences, learn best practices through casual conversation and peer-led educational sessions, and meet other young adults doing this volunteer work from San Diego to Toronto.
The MHWOW team emphasized collaboration host-to-host and host-to-resident, self-evaluation (looking at the current state of MHWOW communities and how to improve them), and to show the MHWOW hosts and residents that they are part of a large, interconnected community of young Jewish leaders.
It’s community for community builders.
“Personally, [MHWOW has] really inspired me to create what I want to see in my Jewish community. It’s been a really powerful way to take charge of my Jewish identity. In fact, I’m planning to explore being a Jewish educator full time as a result of the programs I’ve done through MHWOW!“ – Valerie Brown, MHWOW Host, Washington D.C.
This year, many interesting and exciting sessions and experienced were facilitated by hosts, residents, and staff. Here are some highlights:
The MHWOW Space
Tamarack Camps in Ortonville, Michigan is a beautiful campus. The trees were turning all kinds of gold and auburn and as a Southern Californian I appreciated seeing an actual season. Inside, the MHWOW team, led by Liza and Leah, built a comfy, creatively decorated space that included three elements:
- Program Timeline – This massive thirty-five foot banner showcased every single program the MHWOW hosts in attendance had completed in the last 10 months — About 300 programs and 150 photos. Hosts, residents, and staff were able to see what their peers had created.
- By The Numbers – This installation highlighted the diverse array of the 2,282 programs hosted over the past 10 months, which included 1,079 Shabbat programs, 97 women’s programs, 23 LGBTQ+ programs, and info on all 21 countries where MHWOW communities exist.
- Haikus – In the application to attend Natty Con, hosts were asked to write a haiku describing themselves. One favorite is from Andrew Spector, NYC host, “I knew they’d read these, Stressed out about this haiku, Shabbat Shalom, y’all”
“I had the opportunity to discuss the future of MHWOW and Moishe House with the staff and my fellow MHWOW hosts. I also had the opportunity to really reflect on my place in the community as a resident Alumni, new MHWOW host.”
–Jill Wolfson, MHWOW Host, South Florida
MHWOW hosts participated in and led learning sessions throughout the weekend. Some of the sessions were MHWOW focused, some were available to the whole community, and others were impromptu sessions led by inspired hosts. Here are some workshop examples and their facilitators:
- Lost in Translation: Incorporating Jewish Cultural Narratives – Simona Gilman, MHWOW Host
- Israel Programming: Beyond the Hummus: Jill Wolfson, MHWOW host, and Jake Sullivan, Moishe House Portland
- Mental Health Counseling 101: How to Support Community Members – Deanna Goldner MSW, MHWOW host, and Daniel Huvard MSW, Moishe House Houston
- Open Space: Conversations, collaborations, and questions for MHWOW hosts – Liza Moskowitz, MHWOW Program Manager
- Beyond the Front Door: Who is included and excluded from your community? Concrete steps to make your community more accessible – created by Molly Cram and various facilitators
“Without MHWOW, I don’t think I would have a Jewish community in my community. Judaism is part of my identity, and MHWOW allows me to keep that part of myself.” – Shani Aharon, MHWOW Host, Worcester, Mass.
The Michael H.K. Cohen Award
The first Michael H. K. Cohen Award and Travel Fellowship, was given to two Moishe House residents and/or Moishe House Without Walls hosts, the first at Natty Con 2018 and another scheduled to be awarded at Internatty Con 2018. This award is given to two of our almost 1,000 residents or hosts that combines a passion for adventure and travel with warmth, kindness, curiosity, intelligence, and a love of Judaism — key tenets for a successful Moishe House community builder.
The awards namesake, Michael H.K. Cohen was a Jewish leader as a college student and young adult as well as an active community member in both the Moishe House Beijing and Boston communities.
Michael’s premature death in 2018, at the age of 28, shocked and saddened everyone who knew him. This award honors the spirit Michael brought to everything he did and his legacy of caring deeply for others, building bridges to new cultures, appreciating our Jewish heritage and bringing happiness to everyone around him.
At the welcoming gathering of Natty Con, Liza proudly introduced Deanna Goldner, MHWOW host from Harlem, New York, as the first recipient. Deanna has been a MHWOW host for a year.
“I feel honored to receive this award on behalf of the loving memory of Michael.” Deanna said as she accepted the award in front of the Natty Con community, “I’ve also lost someone dear to me due to suicide and then dedicated my career as a social worker to suicide prevention. It feels meaningful to now focus my role in the Jewish community as a way of celebrating Michael’s life.”
Click HERE to learn more about the Michael H. K. Award and Deanna’s impact an MHWOW host.
The Weird Fun Stuff
Natty Con is a lot of relationship building, learning, and shared experiences. It’s also a place where a lot of fun happens, from canoeing on the lake, rock climbing, a big camping style party on Saturday night, a strange giant bubble, and a lot a LOT of laughs.
It takes a lot of people to create an experience like Natty Con.
Special thank you to Brandi Applebaum, MHWOW Host from Boca Raton, Florida, who served as a Natty Con Co-Chair, and represented MHWOW to the entire community throughout the weekend.
Thank you to the MHWOW Team: Liza, Leah, Alyssa, and Josh, who facilitated workshops, created a lot of art and “natmosphere”, mentored other facilitators, did a ton of logistical work, and stayed up working way too late and got up way too early to make this whole thing come together.
Thank you to Joel Stanley, Senior Director of House Programs, Aliza Minkina, Director of House Programs, and Sari Kreines, Program Coordinator, who formed the core team that were responsible for Natty Con from the first concept meeting to the last box being shipped home.
Lastly, thank you to the William Davidson Foundation for generously funding Natty Con.
Natty Con is made up of a diverse array of MHWOW hosts, residents, and staff people. The participants attended this conference because they believe they can learn how to better create meaningful experiences for their Jewish community. We, at Moishe House, are proud that so many young adults are creating change and lasting relationships because of their commitment to Judaism and love of community.