The Power of Inexperience

By David Cygielman

Whenever I spend time with residents or participants who are new to Moishe House, I focus on two things: the story of how Moishe House started and the budget numbers.

Sharing Moishe House’s budget is the easy part. I want every funder, staff member, resident and person involved in our organization to know where the money goes and how we work to raise the financial support to make Moishe House possible. After being involved in a variety of not-for-profits that keep this information blurry but still ask for donations, I am confident that transparency is the most effective way to establish credibility from the start.

The story of how Moishe House came to be is more complicated. I want our organization to have a common history, and as the person who has been with Moishe House the longest, this responsibility primarily falls on my shoulders. Moishe House exists today because of the inexperience of those who founded it. While Moishe House is now perceived as a thriving and growing international organization serving tens of thousands of young adults in their 20s, this is certainly a far cry from where we started. During the first two years of Moishe House, life was good. We existed within a private foundation that gave us the resources to explore, experiment and make mistakes. The program was working and growing. But, I will never forget when it all came crashing down in July, 2008. In one day, we went from a new but expanding program that was fully funded to the tune of one million dollars a year to having no funding and no place to call home. The foundation that had been so amazingly generous was hit by the financial crash and none of us had the experience or foresight to see the challenges coming. Nonetheless, being immediately forced to sink or swim was the best thing that ever happened to Moishe House.

It may sound strange that losing 100% of our funding and having to start from scratch would be a good situation, but looking back, it made us stronger and more viable as an organization. We were too young and inexperienced to know that we should have shut our doors. In hindsight, immediately closing shop would have been the most logical next step. We were a million dollars in the hole, had no board, no office and no 501(c)3 tax status. Even though our backs were against the wall, we never thought there was any other option than making this organization work. Experience provides many wonderful insights, but inexperience allows you to dream about things that would otherwise seem impossible. If we want our organizations and the world to look different than it does today, we will have to look to those with less experience to take us down paths that we may never have allowed ourselves to imagine.

For everyone involved in our organization, we want them to know that they are the ones making Moishe House possible. We are here to learn from them. We do not invest in evaluation and ask for opinions because we want to prove that we are worthy of existence; we do it because we have a lot to learn and sometimes, the newer the perspective, the more value they can bring. We are surrounded by new residents, participants and staff who lack experience and they are also the ones providing the best direction if we are open to listening to them.

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