Connecting With Young Jews, Wherever They Are

Matzo Cover Making in Encinitas; courtesy Moishe House.
Matzo Cover Making in Encinitas; courtesy Moishe House.

by David Cygielman

My first car was a 1971 red Volkswagen Beetle convertible. It was the car my mom bought when she was in her 20s and took the daring drive from New York to San Francisco, a trip her family and friends thought she was crazy to make since it was so far from home and she didn’t have a job lined up.

Today, these moves happen far more frequently. What at that time felt like a jump off a steep cliff is now an expected part of life’s journey. Beyond just moving from city to city, young adults are also relocating to new countries, quickly facilitating new global networks along the way. Whether for work, friends, family or adventure, mobility is at our fingertips and Jewish young adults are taking full advantage by picking up and traveling the world.

This phenomenon has created new opportunities for building and supporting Jewish community. As young adults become more transient, we have to understand that even if we live in Dallas, ensuring Jewish life in Chicago or even Beijing will actually end up directly benefiting your local community in the long run.

During the recent Board of Directors meeting at Moishe House, where I am the founder and executive director, our top leaders grappled with this. We discussed the amazing applications we recently received from Berlin, Cape Town, Paris, Prague and Sao Paolo. Each of these cities have groups of young adults eager to build upon their own Jewish life because of what they experienced in other communities. As a result, they want to build their own peer-led communities.

Looking back 20 years ago, it was highly unlikely that Jewish young adults located in five completely different cities on three far-reaching continents would share similar experiences and yearn to create such a strong and connected Jewish network. As global networks are built, information and life is exchanged in a way that creates a flat world.

For the first time, there are more similarities than differences in Jewish life for young adults no matter where they are. This poses a terrific opportunity to scale our engagement of these growing networks; yet, will also force us to think differently about how we make a tangible impact down the road.

In one of the many recent applications Moishe House received, a young woman in Prague wrote, “Through Moishe House, we can approach young people on a more personal level. This is exactly the thing that my community is longing for and I strongly believe that we can create a nice, friendly and welcoming environment. This platform would help us make the community more accessible, open and stronger.”

While the demand to create Jewish communities continues to expand, it will take a partnership with funders to support these young leaders in their work. We are not in this alone, and luckily there are other like-minded organizations such as ROI, JDC, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and others who share a vision of supporting and connecting young adults creating Jewish community. Together, our Jewish organizations can transform these requests into a practical reality with the assistance from donors, federations and foundations.

With global demand so far outweighing supply, Moishe House recently launched a campaign to support these international communities. Spearheaded by a $50,000 challenge grant through the Sabrina Merage Foundation, we have created the Global Community Fund, with a dollar-for-dollar match. The time is now to embrace these changes and support young adult Jewish life in cities throughout the world the same way we do in our own backyards.

This sense of urgency is only the beginning. These global networks will continue to grow and the opportunity to support them is enormous. It may take a 26-year-old from Los Angeles visiting Latvia for them to engage in Jewish community, but in today’s fast-paced world, that may become the norm. That is why we cannot ignore young adults like Alina, Artur and Oleg who opened a Moishe House in Latvia’s capital of Riga three months ago.

David Cygielman is the founder and CEO of Moishe House, a pluralistic international organization that provides meaningful Jewish experiences to young adults in their 20s.

Adapted from a presentation at the Jewish Funders Network 2014 Conference