Creating Community in Kiev

Kiev Moishe House Pesach 2013; courtesy.
Kiev Moishe House Pesach 2013; courtesy.
by Olga Bard

Being a young Jewish adult in a city with many varied ways of spending your free time can easily leave you without a “Jewish” focus. That is why when Moishe House came to Kiev in September 2010, a quiet revolution started. It was the first time young adults were creating programs for their peers, offering a pluralistic space where everyone could find their Jewish identity and explore it in their own way.

Moishe House has provided the Jewish hub and home base that neither I nor any of my Jewish friends had growing up. We come from a generation that learned about Jewish tradition at Hillel and JAFI summer camps, and then taught it to our parents. We never went to Jewish day school, but we did conduct hundreds of Shabbat services and Pesach Seders for kids and the elderly around Ukraine during our years at university.

Now, as young adults working eight hours a day (sometimes more), it is our Jewish traditions that we draw on to feel nurtured and motivated. We approach Shabbat both as a day of rest set apart from the week and also as an opportunity to celebrate with friends.

Before Moishe House, I never cooked for Shabbat – my room could not fit 15 people at one time, and to be honest, I could not afford to spend that much money on just one dinner. Now, together with my three fellow Moishe House Kiev residents, I do it just about every week, inviting peers from across our community to share it with us.

At every Chagim, Shabbatot and programs we organize, we see the faces of people who would rarely go to synagogue, would not celebrate festivals at home or who feel too old for youth organizations. But they do want to be a part of Jewish life and traditions, and our home offers a safe, welcoming place for them to do that.

As current Moishe House Kiev residents, we have created a space where our peers can be engaged, participate, mold and strengthen their Jewish identity in any way they choose and, most importantly, can take responsibility for their Jewish community. It is a challenge to make each program interesting, but the greatest trick, we have discovered, is to create and maintain an atmosphere where people can share their thoughts, discuss “hot” topics, not be judged for their opinion or beliefs and feel a sense of belonging.

Moishe House has become the place where we put into practice our skills as leaders and where the next generation can create a committed community of Jewish young adults who will, in the near future, take responsibility for the decision-making.

This year we celebrated Passover Seder at Moishe House during a snowstorm. Among my personal reasons not to cancel, despite the weather, was a 33-year-old friend who was planning to join us. Even with two Jewish parents, he had never before participated in a Seder. We led a service and discussion, which are key elements that contribute to the success of this house.

And yet, as successful as we have been, we still have a long way to go to make Jewish life and traditions central to the lives of more of our peers. After all, the very definition of community has a different meaning here, and we are still building the concept, dealing with the past as we work to ensure the future. To do that, we need more spaces where young adults can explore, try, fail, try again and gain hands-on experience and tools for building a community that everybody can feel part of and actively engaged in.

Moishe House has helped young adults in Kiev find a place where they can explore their sense of belonging to the Jewish community. We are fortunate to be one of the 54 Moishe Houses in 14 countries, supported by very generous foundations, federations and individuals. Now we have the responsibility to build on this solid foundation by taking a leadership role, empowering others to follow suit and creating a space for young adults to participate and embrace their identity.

Olga Bard is a resident of the Moishe House Kiev.