By Adam Rossano
There is so much depth, diversity and beauty in Jewish tradition. The Jewish people are blessed with a vast and rich history, culture and canon of literature. It is one of the great aspects of Judaism, yet it also presents a significant challenge to Jews around the world. How do I access such a vast and at times complex tradition? How can I be a Jewish leader when there is so much I don’t know? To many, confidence in Jewish leadership does not come naturally. There are so many doubts, anxieties and uncertainties to be had. How can I lead prayer if I’m not sure if I believe in G’d? How can I connect to this tradition if I don’t know what it means? How can I engage others in a Jewish custom if I don’t understand Hebrew? As Jews of all ages continue to seek new meaning and strive for a deeper connection to their Judaism, we must educate in a way that opens new doors, that gives the power to the people and that fosters confidence around being a Jewish leader.
Moishe House empowers young adults to build vibrant Jewish communities for themselves and their peers. Living in the 85 Moishe Houses in 21 countries around the world are residents from an incredibly diverse range of backgrounds – from Jewish community professionals and alumni of yeshivot (Jewish educational institutions) to those who come from communities with little to no provision of Jewish education and those who have only recently discovered that they are Jewish – all united by their shared goal to build grassroots inclusive Jewish community that engages their peers in a meaningful way.
In addition to the house model, Moishe House also has a growing retreat programme, with Jewish Learning Retreats and Leadership Development Retreats taking place on a monthly basis across the globe. Our Jewish education strategy focuses on providing young adults with the tools and skills they require in order to create Jewish programming in their communities and allows young adults the space to explore, question and challenge themselves in a warm, welcoming and inclusive Jewish environment. The Jewish Learning Retreats are a key part of that ‘learning for the sake of doing’.
Just last weekend, we ran a ‘Welcoming Shabbat’ Jewish Learning Retreat in Prague, exploring all aspects of welcoming Shabbat, whether by baking challah together as a community, creating a Kabbalat Shabbat service together and learning the meaning behind the texts and songs, exploring how to host and welcome Shabbat guests, and sharing traditions and customs from participants attending from all over the world. Participants went away with some in-depth learning and the practical skills to be able to create their own ‘Welcoming Shabbat’ programmes in their own homes and communities. Only 25% of participants said they were confident in their knowledge of spiritual elements of Shabbat prior to the retreat, whereas 80% said so after the retreat (220% increase). Prior to the retreat, 55% of participants were confident in leading a Shabbat programme and this figure grew to 85% after the retreat. The number of participants that expressed confidence in creating an inclusive Shabbat space doubled after the retreat, from 45% to 90%. Participants of Moishe House Jewish learning retreats are eligible to host Jewish community-building programmes of their own, with support and funding through Moishe House Without Walls, our alumni engagement programme. Since the start of the year, following 3 Jewish Learning Retreats held outside of North America alone, with dozens of retreat participants coming from Argentina, Slovenia, Montenegro, Ukraine, London, Paris, Budapest, China and many more places in between, pockets of meaningful peer-led Jewish programmes are emerging in cities around the world.
Perhaps what is most remarkable and important about these gatherings are those moments where something just clicks for a participant (and for staff for that matter). It’s in those moments that we find new meaning, connect to something in a relatable way, view the world differently and witness with great excitement our horizons broaden before us. I can lead my community in prayer without having to read Hebrew. I can think of G’d as a higher power, the universe, the good in all of us, or whatever speaks to me. I can share my personal connection to a tradition and that in itself adds meaning for others.
Our recent evaluation showed that prior to living in the Moishe House, just 38% of residents described themselves as leaders in the Jewish community, yet after living in Moishe House 83% described themselves as leaders. This is a remarkable 118% increase.
Sometimes in the pursuit of meaning and the journey to becoming a Jewish leader, all we need is to be given permission to think of something differently, to be invited to step up, to be told ‘yes’. Then the rest can follow.
Adam Rossano is Regional Director: Global Communities at Moishe House. Based in London, Adam supports and coaches the residents of 10 Moishe Houses outside of North America, spanning 5 continents.