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Moishe House coming to Pittsburgh; $6M investment clears way for project
by Lee Chottiner, Executive Editor
Aug 16, 2012 | 4171 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Moishe House, an international organization providing Jewish experiences to young adults in their 20s by creating home-based communities, is coming to Pittsburgh.

In fact, it’s already here.

Four 20-something Jews — two men, two women — are moving into a newly designated Moishe House in Squirrel Hill this month.  But the house will be the site of many religious, social and educational programs for dozens of young Jews throughout the Pittsburgh area.

“We hope to partner with different rabbis in the community  — and get different perspectives,” said Yoni Steinberg, a graduate business student at Carnegie Mellon University, and one of the Moishe House residents. “It’s a nondenominational, egalitarian house.”

The Pittsburgh house is one result of a recently announced $6 million investment by five major foundations, which will enable Moishe House to expand its presence around the world.

The Jim Joseph Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, Genesis Philanthropy Group and Maimonides Fund are making the combined investment.

The Jim Joseph Foundation, in particular, is offering up to a $3 million, dollar-for-dollar match to Moishe House for all funds raised from federations and individuals over the next four and half years.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh will come up with $30,000 to support Moishe House operations, President and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein said.

“The idea of bringing a Moishe house is something we’ve been talking about for about two years,” Finkelstein said. “This is such a great opportunity that we told them to go ahead and move forward, and we’ll get the funding together. It’s off of our usual cycle.”

He touted the location of the house as convenient to 20-something Jews.

Moishe House already has 46 residences in 14 countries, engaging more than 50,000 attendees a year.

In addition to Pittsburgh, Moishe House opened its first house in Israel this month. It celebrated its grand opening in Jerusalem last week, which attracted some 100 people, and hopes to expand to Tel Aviv by the end of the year.

It also expects to expand to three more communities in North America this year and two in the former Soviet Union.

David Cygielman, founder and CEO of Moishe House, said the Pittsburgh project came about quickly. It started this past March when he met Steinberg at TribeFest 2012 in Las Vegas.

TribeFest is a national convention for young Jewish adults, ages 22 to 45, sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America.

“Steinberg wanted to learn more about Moishe House to bring it to the community,” Cygielman said. He told Steinberg that Moishe House opens in cities where residents are prepared to live in the house and community support is lined up.

He got both just a few months later.

“Pittsburgh happened and quite quickly, and in a really good way,” Cygielman said. “Within a short time span — by July — we learned of a group of four applicants [and] we spoke with Jeff at the Federation, and they said they were on board.”

Moishe House in Pittsburgh is expected to have seven or more programs per month or more than 80 programs a year, he noted.

Given the nature of its mission, Moishe House rents houses large enough to accommodate large groups of Jews.

“Most people in their 20s don’t live in a place where you can have 30 people over for Shabbat dinner twice a month,” Cygielman said. “They have to live in a place and area that is convenient and has the kind of size to make it convenient for that kind of crowd.”

Moishe House is sometimes compared to Chabad, but Cygielman warned against taking the comparisons too far.

“There was an article in a Jewish paper in London; the title was ‘Chabad house without Chabad,’ ” he said. “The similarity is with the home-based model and the inclusiveness and warmth of inviting someone over to your home. Beyond that there are some stark differences.”

For instance, Moishe House residents live in the house for one to three years before moving, which is necessary if the house is to serve its targeted audience of 20-something Jews.

Most of all, the culture of each house, including its level and manner of observance, education programs and social activities, differs from city to city.

“They’re not uniform,” Cygielman said. “If you go to a Shabbat dinner at a Chabad, there are many things that are Chabad about it. At Moishe House, the personality of each house is reflected by the people in the house. The kitchens [for instance]; some are vegetarian, some are kosher, some are not.

We leave it to the residents. … We have the resources and training to give them every opportunity to be successful, but ultimately we want them to create a community that works for them and their peers. We’re not experts on every community, they are.”

Moishe House does not compete with congregations for new members, he said. Statistically, the 20-something age group doesn’t affiliate anyway.

But Moishe House does partner with congregations and organizations, thus preparing 20-somethings for affiliation later in life.

“We want Moishe House and successful organizations like J’Burgh to work in concert,” Cygielman said.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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