Moving From Jewish Programming to Inspired Judaism

When people ask me what comes after Moishe House, I no longer believe it can be another Jewish program. It has to be Judaism.

By David Cygielman

There is a lot of conversation about the notion of “free” in the Jewish community, particularly around college and young adult programming. As a community, we are struggling with the transition from a Jewish world that not only is free, but also provides huge opportunities at little or no cost if you just show up, to the stage that comes next. This “free” programming comes in stark contrast to the reality that living an active Jewish life is actually quite expensive. I am now in my 30s and see the cost side as more of a byproduct than the actual root of the issue. We have plenty of evidence that young people will pay for things, but it is based on perceived value rather than obligation.

We should be concerned, but not about who is paying for what, but rather, are we able to make a successful shift from providing high quality Jewish programming to even higher quality Judaism? Jewish programming provides experiences that are plug and play – you show up, learn something, eat something, meet someone, go somewhere, etc. Whether it is through Hillel, Birthright, Moishe House or other organizations, it gives large numbers of young Jews the chance to participate in the Jewish community, and for a small subset, the chance to help lead it. Although so important and necessary, it cannot be the end when it comes to developing Jewish identity. When people ask me what comes after Moishe House, I no longer believe it can be another Jewish program. It has to be Judaism. Combined with terrific partners, we have set the stage for this to happen but something new also has to rise up.

So what exactly does this look like? At the core, it uses the same tradition that we have had for thousands of years but, whether we like it or not, it does look different than what our community has spent so much time, money and energy building over the past 60 years. Look no further than Mishkan in Chicago, born out of IKAR in Los Angeles. These organizations are already creating inspired, consistent and participatory Judaism that is more than just possible – it is desired. We, as the greater Jewish community, are the one’s holding it back from erupting. To take such a leap in building Judaism is very difficult. It takes turning away much higher paying jobs for no salary at all, starting from scratch and often being seen as “competition” despite working purely to build Judaism for a population that has largely not experienced it.

The opportunity and potential is massive but the endeavor is risky. To engage young people in Judaism is something that, unlike a program, can last a lifetime. Each person’s evolution will be unique but hopefully will lead to a combination of rituals like Shabbat and holidays that can be done at home and through communal activities where we rely on each other and our leaders. The attention and support toward programming in the Jewish community has been absolutely needed and successful, but as a friend and mentor consistently asks, what does version 2.0 look like?

David Cygielman is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Moishe House.