Moishe House Dolores' Summer Soiree event, June 21.
Moishe House Dolores' Summer Soiree event, June 21.

Moishe Houses welcome back young adults hungry for community

Backyard bonfires, summer soirees and Sunday morning prayers are back, as the Bay Area’s Moishe Houses — an international network of  communal living spaces for Jewish young adults — have begun returning to the in-person monthly programming that they offered before the pandemic.

The return has been met so far with enthusiasm. Like the waves of congregants who returned to synagogues after California reopened, Moishe House community members filled homes for Shabbat services and socials, eager to return to the joys of joining hands and sharing songs in person.

“We’re really excited to reopen,” said Shira Goldmann, a founding resident of Moishe House Oakland–Lake Merritt. “We just started in-person events again, and it was so fulfilling to have people over in our backyard, which is really meant to be a community space, and that felt empty before without the community.”

When the house opened in July 2019, just eight months before the Bay Area went into pandemic lockdown, the first Shabbat dinner attracted 120 people.

“It was total madness, but it was amazing, and the community just sort of kept growing after that,” Goldmann said. “We really took a lot of pride in the sort of life that we cast with our community and this welcoming environment for anyone who wanted to come by. And then the pandemic just sort of, you know, grabbed the rug out from under our feet.”

Like everyone else around the world, Moishe House residents and staff had to adjust to virtual spaces.

“We all had to kind of compartmentalize and disassociate during the pandemic, just as a coping mechanism,” said Tiffany Harris, Moishe House’s chief program officer based in Southern California. “And so there were things that you either forgot, or didn’t think about because you knew that you wouldn’t have them for a while. For a lot of people, singing was one of them — singing in a group and then during Havdalah, putting your arms around other participants in a circle.”

Harris, who came on board last August, said Moishe House had to pivot away from the in-person programming that it was created to facilitate. “The initial focus was to just make sure that we were supporting our community builders and not forcing them to do programs in this very unsafe, uncertain time,” she said.

It was so fulfilling to have people over in our backyard, which felt empty before without the community.

Moishe House Oakland–Lake Merritt resident Molly Brodsky, 26, found that creating engaging virtual programming wasn’t the only challenge the pandemic presented: People were leaving the Bay Area, and those who stayed were often experiencing Zoom fatigue from working remotely.

“It was a big bummer,” Brodsky said. “It was really quite disappointing to see the community we worked so hard to build just sort of fade away.”

But now, since Gov. Gavin Newsom ended most pandemic restrictions in the state on June 15, Moishe Houses are ready to reopen their doors. As cities open back up, restrictions are lifted and vaccination rates rise, residents are eager to get back to community building with both fresh and familiar faces.

“We are making it a point to focus not only on new connections, but also to strengthen existing connections,” Goldmann said.

Daniel Moll, 22, a Moishe House SF Dolores resident, also found the remote programming challenging at first.

“There’s a learning curve to figuring out how to host virtual events and engage people in an online environment,” Moll said. “I think that was definitely a lot of learning for me, and how to create things that people would find interesting enough to want to come back to.”

That is happening now. In fact, Moishe House SF Dolores recently welcomed a new resident when Mackenzie Feldman, 25, moved into the house on June 26. Originally from Hawaii, she came to the Bay Area a few years ago to attend UC Berkeley. There she found community with other students through Hillel, but once she graduated in 2018 she discovered she was missing the camaraderie she felt with other young Jews.

Participants at a Moishe House Oakland-Lake Merritt event build menstrual hygiene kits for homeless women.
Participants at a Moishe House Oakland-Lake Merritt event build menstrual hygiene kits for homeless women.

“It’s hard post-college, because you’re used to just being in community with so many people, and then it’s hard to navigate those friend groups,” Feldman said. “How do you still be a part of a community in a big city and all those things?”

A friend introduced her to Moishe House, and after attending a couple of Shabbat dinners and a bonfire for Lag Ba’Omer, Feldman applied to become a resident.

“It’s cool how there’s people who kind of come and go out of the house, like sometimes people will just crash here who are passing by,” something that would not have been possible during the pandemic, Feldman said.

Event attendance has almost tripled at SF Dolores since stay-at-home orders have been lifted. “There’s definitely a lot of excitement around the transition back to in-person,” Moll said. “The other week, we had a garden party with 35 people in our backyard. It was the culmination of all these people we’ve been talking to and making friends with during the virtual period getting to come in and hang out with us in a safe way in person.”

Across the bay at Moishe House Oakland–Lake Merritt, an influx of new members attending programming has reassured residents that their community is back, and here to stay.

“It’s a reminder that our community is meant to be evergreen, it’s meant to be regenerative,” Goldmann said. “And folks will always be popping up, new faces will always be popping up, and the infrastructure we’ve built will always be here to welcome.”

Oakland was where Moishe House was established in 2006, and it has since grown into a global network of homes serving as hubs for the post-college young adult Jewish community (in their 20s and 30s). Residents receive a rent subsidy and program budget to create a communal Jewish space. The nonprofit now has more than 100 houses in 30 countries, accommodating over 300 people.

Lea Loeb
Lea Loeb

Lea Loeb is J.'s editorial assistant.