Before they discovered Moishe House L.A. (MoHoLa), Rodrigo Rodarte had never led a Shabbat dinner, Jon Shoer was looking to solidify his Jewish identity, and Joshua Nathan Finn was searching for a way to create a home away from home for his Jewish peers.
All three found a place to belong at MoHoLa in West Hollywood at 1003 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., one of 54 houses in 14 countries established by Moishe House.
Started in 2006, the nondenominational organization aspires to bring Jews in their 20s together to celebrate their heritage through social events, Shabbat dinners, volunteer opportunities and holiday gatherings. Its model employs “houses” in which three to five young adults plan and host a wide range of events.
Moishe House boasts serving 60,000 program attendees around the world every year. Locally, there are other houses in the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles.
MoHoLa, which has a total of five residents, puts together seven events every month. It hosts Shabbat meals every two weeks for an average of 50 people, held a Chanukah quiz night and put together a singles event at a local bar around Valentine’s Day. During the second night of Passover, they are co-sponsoring a seder at Sinai Temple that will focus on social justice.
Ariela Emery, 24, who worked at her local Jewish community center in Houston and moved here this past July, joined to stay involved in the Jewish community.
She said that what Moishe House does is important because, “Everyone feels Jewish a different way. Some people have memories of grandmas, and others remember Chanukah parties. The good thing about Moishe House is we try to give people a huge variety of ways they can connect to Judaism. If they just like to meet other Jews and that makes them feel Jewish, we have purely social activities. We do two Shabbats a month if they like Shabbat. If they like social justice, we volunteer at a food pantry. It’s a great platform for young people to come and [experience] many ways to feel Jewish and connect with people their own age.”
When it started three years ago, MoHoLa received half of its funding from national Moishe House; the rest was split among a few families and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, according to Rodarte.
In its second year, it reached 75 percent local funding. The annual budget, Rodarte said, is $54,000, not including grants for special events such as Passover seders. Currently, it is sponsored by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, Federation, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and The Kallick Family.
Tamar Raucher, marketing and development associate for Moishe House, which is headquartered in Oakland, said a new house can be approved at any time. If a group of devoted friends is willing to hold a certain number of Jewish-themed events per month and there is a need in a community, they have the chance to receive funding. What they are looking for in a candidate is someone who is an outgoing leader and passionate about building a Jewish community.
Dave Cygielman, CEO and founder of Moishe House, said that having houses in Los Angeles is important for two reasons: There are many young adults who want to be part of a community, and there are transplants “who are brand-new to the area and have to figure out who they are and what kind of life they are going to live. Moishe House gives that opportunity for Jewish life.”
Cygielman said the model of his organization is effective in its outreach efforts because it relies on its young residents.
“By doing it peer-to-peer rather than staff person-to-the-program recipient, we find that a lot more people come. Recruitment and engagement is easier and much more simple,” he said. “It becomes very cost effective, and it takes on the personality, interests and needs of the generation taking on the programming, which is key. We don’t have to continually figure out what young people want because it’s being planned and created by young people.”
Rodarte, 26, said for the first one and a half years that he lived in Los Angeles, he didn’t feel like he belonged to any Jewish community. When he attended Moishe House events, though, he started to feel the bond to his religion and heritage once again.
“There were people my own age that I recognized,” he said. “It’s kind of like going to friends’ or friends of friends’ houses at first. That grows and builds. We feel like we’re part of our own community.”
Because of the house, he said he’s had the chance to get in touch with his Judaism. Growing up, Rodarte never led services or dinners, which he now does regularly at the house. He also never had a bar mitzvah, and felt like he was missing out. He applied to the organization’s scholarship fund, received $500 and was able to take classes leading up to a bar mitzvah last summer.
“The experience with Moishe House has been really great,” he said. “I’ve been able to do things I never would have done.”
Shoer, 25, decided to get involved in the summer of 2011, when he met Rodarte at a bar and learned about the program. He had returned only a few months prior from Israel, where he said he found his Jewish identity and was inspired “to continue that feeling I had in Israel.”
He ended up staying in Los Angeles for more than drinks and joining MoHoLa. Because of Rodarte and the other members, he didn’t feel out of place after moving, he said.
“It’s really tough for a person of post-college age to find a social group or a place to feel comfortable and meet new people,” he said. “We provide that opportunity. I was in L.A., and I didn’t know anybody. Moishe House became my entire world. I met everyone I know through it. It’s a great tool and opportunity for people once they are out of college to be a part of that community.”
Just like Shoer, Finn, 25, found that Moishe House helped him settle into his new city. That, in turn, led him to want to get involved.
He explained, “I wanted to pay it forward, so to speak, and give people new to L.A. the same sense of welcoming that I received when I met people there.”