It was like a Kiddush cup filled to the brim with wine spilling over, says Eli Gregory, when asked about Passover 2014 at Moishe House, a Portland young adult organization. Sixty-five people crammed onto couches, giant beanbags and extra chairs borrowed from the Oregon Jewish Museum. They followed Eli’s socially conscious adaptation of the Haggadah on smartphones while enjoying delicacies like gluten-free, dairy- free, avocado-based chocolate mousse and, of course, homemade gefilte fish.
In fact, Moishe House has drawn crowds since Jodi Berris and Steve Bloom opened the Portland chapter in 2008. Today, the international organization, with the help of generous local donors, supports homes in 71 communities. Each home has four or five residents chartered to plan and host regular events geared to 21- to 30-year-olds.
Portland Moishe House started on the west side in 2008 and moved to the Southeast Clinton neighborhood in 2011. This past July, they shifted again, to a spacious 4,000-plus-square foot home near Mt. Tabor. The new move brings them the space they need, bull’s-eye center in the population they serve.
“Since we moved to this house, our attendance at every Shabbat is like Pesach,” says Eli, a transplanted East Coaster who arrived at Moishe House 19 months ago. Other residents include Rochelle Schwartz, a native Portlander who recently completed a master’s degree in counseling, Yossi Shallman, a rhythm and blues guitarist, and Kenneth Gordon, who is busy writing a pilot for an urban martial arts series that takes place in a near-future, sci-fi setting.
“There’s always people in the house, and I’m all for that,” says Ken. “I say, ‘This isn’t our house, it’s yours.’ We put on events for that post-college, pre-family gap when Jewish engagement generally decreases.”
And they find interest everywhere they turn. Yossi met one now-regular while walking home from work with his longboard. “We started hanging out and skating together,” he says. During an ecstatic dance class last month, Rochelle turned around and introduced herself when she overheard a young woman tell a friend, “I’m Jewish, and I need community.”
While the level of religious observance runs the spectrum among residents and guests, Moishe House keeps a kosher kitchen so everyone feels comfortable and welcome.“Most people who come here, about 80%, are just Jewish culturally and want to learn more,” Rochelle says. Eli adds: “In this town, ‘just Jewish’ is a denomination.”
Meanwhile, events keep coming, changing and evolving, and suggestions are always welcome. Moishe House teams up with Portland young adult groups Jews Next Dor and Hinenu on building projects sponsored by Tivnu, a Habitat for Humanity- like organization founded by Steven Eisenbach-Budner. This winter includes ski trips with Moishe House-Vancouver, British Columbia.
Moishe Meditation, led by Rabbi Shalom Mayberg, meets Thursday evenings at the house. “Last week was special,” Eli says. “He invited a friend who is also a yogi, and they made raw, organic chocolates. They led an exploration of chocolate guided by meditation.” All the residents recommend Moishe House retreats sponsored by the international organization.“
“I’ve been here for three years,” Yossi says. “I tell my roommates, ‘There’s Moishe Magic.’ You don’t know if there’s funding or enough food, but it always works out.” Still, local funding is a constraint, and all four wish more monthly events were possible. “I hope people know who the four of us are, what they can expect and that they are welcome,” Rochelle says. “We look forward to meeting them, and I hope Moishe House continues to build.”
“I love what we’re doing; I wouldn’t change anything,” Eli says. “But, there’s room to grow.” Sign-up for the Moishe House newsletter at http:// goo.gl/4Jy5hO or on their facebook page facebook.com/ MoisheHousePortland. Learn more about Moishe House retreats at moishehouse.org/retreats