Birthright Israel trip participants have a new Shabbat dinner invitation waiting for them when they return: at their local Moishe Houses.
Moishe House, a growing network of subsidized communal residences for young Jewish adults, recently announced it would team up on Shabbat programming with Birthright NEXT, an initiative that helps the free Israel trip alumni deepen their engagement in Jewish life.
Located in 20 North American communities, from Palo Alto to Philadelphia to Great Neck, Moishe Houses already host Friday night dinners regularly — around two per month each — but directors hope to benefit from NEXT’s programming and extensive network of Birthright alumni.
“We are very similar if not the same populations, and it’s an opportunity that can serve as a model in the Jewish community about the value of Jewish organizations working collaboratively instead of competitively,” said Morlie Levin, CEO of Birthright Israel NEXT.
For both organizations, which share many of the same funders, including the Jim Joseph Foundation and Lynn Schusterman, the partnership just made sense.
“Of the people who live in Moishe Houses, over 50 percent have been on Birthright and over 90 percent have been to Israel,” said David Cygielman, the co-founder and executive director of Moishe House.
The two groups have even synchronized their internal computer databases, so that each Moishe House can see exactly how all the other houses are hosting their newly revamped Shabbats.
NEXT Shabbat programming involves a specially packaged curriculum called the “Shabbox,” which Levin describes as a cardboard box that contains “all the accoutrements needed for Shabbat.”
Rebecca Karp, a Moishe House resident in Philadelphia, says the addition of the Shabbox to her community’s recent Friday night meal seemed to make guests more comfortable partaking in Jewish ritual, as they followed the instructions provided by placards in the box to wash their hands.
“I noticed more people saying the blessing,” she said. “Throughout dinner we had the box out.”
Typical Friday night attendance is currently around 30 people at most of the Moishe Houses, but there is no limit on the number of guests, and Cygielman expects both the population and the frequency of Shabbat dinners to increase.
“We’re really both growing and exploring and at this point complement each other very well,” Cygielman said.
“Each of us shares a view about Jewish organizational life,” Levin added, “which is to get as much collaboration and cooperation as possible, and bring down these organizational and institutional barriers to achieve the same goal.”