Moishe House’s fresh faces expand young adult options
By DEBORAH MOON
article created on: 2011-02-15T00:00:00
Portland’s Moishe House, where residents create programs and a Jewish space for themselves and other young adults, is getting an infusion of ideas and enthusiasm as two new residents bring their diverse experiences and outlooks to the mix.
New to the house and Portland are Julia Gazdag, 27, born in Hungary to secular parents and now an observant Jew and a professional in the film and TV industry, and Jonathan Morgan, 24 on Feb. 24, an aspiring Jewish communal professional who is moving to town from the Moishe House in Los Angeles.
Gazdag and Morgan join Rachel House, 24, and Becca Cigan, 25, who have lived at Moishe House since January 2009.
There are nine Moishe Houses in the western region and 33 around the world. Moishe Houses are designed as grassroots Jewish community centers mainly for young adults. Portland’s house was founded in 2008 by Jodi Berris, 31, who moves out this month. Wanting the Portland house to be open to all, Berris created the first shomer Shabbat, kosher Moishe House.
“If you make it shomer Shabbat and kosher, every Jews can participate without an issue,” said Berris. “Once you take those pieces away, you start excluding. To build a Jewish community, you need a broad perspective.”
Berris said she believes the four residents she leaves behind will fulfill her vision of including everyone and attracting young adults to fun, cheap Jewish gatherings (see box for coming events).
“Rachel and Becca have been there two years and they are great,” said Berris. “They have strong Jewish identities and the desire to maintain the house the way it is structured. I feel confident it has a good base Judaically, programmatically and socially.”
Of the newcomers, she said, “Julia is very driven and has great ideas for programs. She’s been around the world and done lots of Jewish leadership programs. … Jonathan is chilled and laid back.”
Cigan also is excited: “Rachel and I are really excited to propel the original Portland Moishe House vision into the future and we’re very enthusiastic about our new team.”
“Julia is perfect for our house. She loves traditional Judaism and she loves Oregon. I think Portland Jewish young adults will really respond to her leadership style and interests. Jonathon appears to be a perfect replacement for our out-going Jeremy Rogers. He’s a nice, easy-going guy with a lot of motivation to serve the Jewish community. It’s important to us to keep some male energy going in the house.”
Commenting on Morgan’s move from Los Angeles to Portland, Moishe House Western Regional Director Aviva Nan-Tabachnik said, “Jonathan is a wonderful Moishe House resident with tons of energy and enthusiasm. I think that he is going to make a great difference in the Portland Jewish community.”
Morgan attended day school, visited Israel and celebrated holidays with his family. In college he joined Alpha Epsilon Pi and Hillel at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where he earned a bachelor’s in sociology. He held several AEPi executive board positions.
“Even though my experiences in college turned me on to Jewish communal work, the pressures of an independent post college world left me stranded,” said Morgan.
He said he spent eight months not engaged in the Jewish community as he launched his professional life before he started the LA Moishe House.
“It’s been nine months since we opened, and not only have we raised nearly $100,000 … we now have a following of nearly 400 people. I like to assume that in our absence, these people wouldn’t freely engage themselves in Jewish social culture,” said Morgan.
But he said he decided he wanted to live in “a city that called to me.” He said he was offered rooms in several Moishe Houses that had open slots.
“I decided to move to Portland because I want to be a part of its young culture and tightly knit Jewish community,” he said. “I would like to be part of a community and environment I enjoy first, and the rest will fall into place. I’m also an outdoorsy person, I love cafés, live music and I lead an active life. Portland Jewry seems to be more cohesive and fitting to my personal lifestyle, though I know my experiences from Los Angeles will help diversify the Portland house’s programming, outreach and organization.”
One part he hopes falls into place is a job as a professional in the Jewish community. Until then, he plans to get involved and make connections … and as the only male in the house, run the sports leagues.
Gazdag brings a wealth of experience to Portland.
Born in Hungary, she said said her totally secular parents sent her to the largest Jewish summer camp in Eastern Europe because her best friend was going. Like Portland’s Moishe House, the Lauder Foundation/American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Camp is pluralistic and shomer Shabbat. Though her family moved to the United States when she was 10, Gazdag returned to the camp for 11 years as a camper and counselor.
“It was an easy space to explore Shabbat. I could experiment with the experience of keeping Shabbat,” she said, noting she is now shomer Shabbat and as a vegetarian, “essentially kosher.”
“I struggled with my parents’ perception of orthodoxy as old men in black hats telling you how to live life,” she said. “But it’s not. It’s how I’ve chosen to live my life … I want to take the culture I’m very involved in and find ways to make it accessible to other people my age.”
Over the past few years, Gazdag has lived in several communities including Austin, Texas; New York; and in Connecticut on a Jewish farming fellowship. During her travels, she came across Portland where she stayed at the Moishe House when looking for a shomer Shabbat place to spend a weekend.
She formed a bond with Berris, who later arranged for her to go on a Birthright Israel trip. When she decided to move to Portland, Berris offered her her space at Moishe House.
“I think there are going to be lots of changes because Jodi was such a central part of the house,” said Gazdag. “It’s going to be great; I see a lot of possibilities and we are continuing the mission she put down.”
Gazdag does hope to expand the tikkun olam programs at the house. She’s already started a local chapter of Challah for Hunger, which bakes and sells challah for Shabbat every two weeks. Proceeds go to Darfur relief efforts and local organizations combatting hunger.
Orders for challah are due on Wednesdays, with pickup on Fridays. For more information, visit challahforhungerpdx.org.
Morgan can be reached at email@example.com; Gazdag at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moise House Events
Sunday, Feb. 27, 5 p.m.Join us for an Oscar-Watching Party at Moishe House! True Grit or Inception? Find out and duke it out over pizza, popcorn and beer. FreeRSVP to email@example.com
Saturday, March 19, 9 p.m.Purim Party: Drink to the story of Esther, pin the hat on Haman, and compete for prizes in the costume contest. $ 5 per personRSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ongoing: 1st and 3rd Tuesdays (Feb. 15, March 1), 7:45 p.m.“Torah on Tap: The Game of Life” Topics include personal goals, love, work, pain and faith. Bring your own topics, too! Snacks and beverages provided. FreeRSVP to email@example.com.
All events meet at Moishe House, 6217 SW 33rd Place. Events are open to young adults ages 18-39, or 21-39 when alcohol is advertised.