By Terry Wunder

On Erev Erev Rosh Hashanah, that is to say, the night before the night before, I was at the gym, chatting with friends about football. Julia turned to me and said, “Are you going to Temple tomorrow?”

Julia and I have never talked about being Jewish before — I didn’t even know that she is Jewish. As I’ve learned in the thirteen years I’ve lived here, Southern California is SO FULL of young Jews. However, that was not the case where I grew up (Albuquerque, New Mexico) and certainly not the case for about 20% of MHWOW hosts.

Around 100 MHWOW hosts in North America (and a couple dozen more internationally) live in communities without a Moishe House. These hosts, in cities like Nashville, Tennessee, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are creating Jewish community largely on their own, without a local Moishe House or other Jewish institutions for support and networking.  It can be challenging work, but these community builders are creating meaningful, lasting experiences for their peers.

  • Andrew Spector, host in Tulsa, OK, hosted a Shabbat dinner in his home for the Jewish young adults of the new cohort of Teach for America fellowship.
  • Fallon Bader, host in Albuquerque, New Mexico (YAY 505!) hosted an event called “Harvesting Consciousness”, which included yoga, meditation, cooking demos, and a discussion with a local Native American Hispanic farmer who led a discussion about personal mindfulness.
  • Sydney Switzer hosted a Tu B’Shvat seder for young expat couples and friends in Mumbai, India. They gathered, discussed the seven species of Israel, and cooked a local specialty: Malida (a sweet rice-based fruit dish).

Andrew Spector and Jake Lerner’s Shabbat Dinner in Tulsa

The challenges of creating communities range from actually finding other young Jews to the pressure of being the only person with funding to create these experiences to feeling isolated and not part of the larger Moishe House community.

Halli James, MHWOW host in Santa Rosa, CA expressed to me once that, “I would host a dozen programs a year if I even had the network to support that amount of activity”.

“I’m the only one here doing what I’m doing,” Sarah Fraden, MHWOW host in Jacksonville, Florida reflected, “I’m still figuring out what I even want Jewish community to look like for myself.”

From Left: Becca Groner, Andrew Spector, Joelle Abramowitz, Talia Banarie, Becca Waller, and Sarah Fraden

At Moishe House’s North American Training Conference, AKA #NattyCon18, in September, some of these hosts in cities without Moishe Houses were able to come together, meet other MHWOW hosts and residents, and participate in learning sessions to strengthen their programs. The kinds of issues that Halli and Sarah are having were common among other hosts and, as a group, they were able to learn from each other best practices and new ideas to engage their local Jews.

My favorite aspect was connecting with other cities similar to mine.” said Becca Waller, MHWOW host in Louisville, Kentucky, “You hear all the time of these huge cities (NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc.) with large and flouring Jewish communities, but it was refreshing to talk to MHWOW hosts from communities with a much smaller size, such as my own. Together we were able to both collaborate and share ideas to bring home.”

We are able to support these hosts because of a generous grant from the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation, which supports all MHWOW programs in North American communities without a Moishe House. Since 2015, Polinger has been a partner in our efforts to find young adults who want to create meaningful Jewish communities. Polinger supports causes in Jewish life (including GatherDC and JDC), performing arts (including one of my favorite podcasts: NPR’s From the Top), and family well-being (Flamboyan Foundation).

In 2019, we hope to recruit many new young adults to become MHWOW hosts in new communities. If you know someone who would be a great MHWOW host, please connect them to me directly – I would be thrilled to talk to them about how we can help them be part of the Moishe House family.