From the Professional Staff

Seeing is Believing: Moishe House Ignite Retreat

By Rachel Halevi on September 1st, 2016

Growing up in a Jewish home, engaging with various Jewish organizations, living in Israel, and working at a Jewish foundation have allowed me to feel connected to Judaism and the Jewish Community. Participating in the Moishe House Ignite Retreat, a retreat designed to gather, connect, and develop Jewish young adult leaders, challenged this sense of connection and reignited my passion for Judaism and the work I do every day as a staff member of the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Some of my fondest memories as a young Jew were Shabbat services at URJ Camp Newman, so I was excited to participate in a Shabbat celebration as one of the first activities of the retreat.  To my surprise, I did not recognize many of the songs; why were we not singing the melodies I knew so well from my years at camp? I looked around at the young Jewish leaders joyously and confidently singing around me.  It was then I realized I have spent too much time away from one of my favorite traditions. This thought simultaneously saddened and inspired me. Over time, different forms of Jewish expression emerge and evolve as people, especially young adults, find new ways to engage with Jewish life.

This was the first eye-opening experience of the weekend, but certainly not the last.  I am grateful for the Foundation’s ability and willingness to support me in experiencing the influence that Moishe House, one of the Foundation’s grantees, has on young Jewish adults and the community. It was unprecedented to send a member of our Foundation’s administrative team into the field in this way, but I have an interest in programming and I fit within the target age demographic, so it was approved as a meaningful professional development opportunity. This opportunity would take time and Foundation resources, so I appreciated my supervisor’s and colleagues’ belief in the value of this experience.

Prior to my participation in the Ignite Retreat, I had studied Moishe House extensively.  I read previous and incoming reports and evaluations, participated in monthly calls, and even began to facilitate a research project examining their Peer-Led Retreat Program.  This involvement led me to feel confident in the Moishe House model and proud of its rapid growth and rates of success, but still I felt removed from understanding the organization thoroughly. What are their core strategies that lead to success?

As a Jewish young adult, I recognize we are a challenging demographic to motivate.  This is not because of ambivalence or laziness, but due to already hectic schedules and the wide variety of options that exist today. It was not until attending this retreat that I fully grasped the potential for Moishe House to impact individual Jewish young adults and the Jewish community at large.  Prior to my own participation, I could not have understood how the innovative structure on which the organization is built cultivates an effective and desirable landscape for young adults from around the world to learn and collaborate Jewishly. From my workspace, I simply could not feel the charisma, dedication, and openness of the staff or appreciate the ambition, passion, and authenticity of the participants.  These are the aspects of Moishe House I came to appreciate, which could only occur through direct experience.

Due to the inclusive and stimulating environment and content created by Moishe House, ambitious and compassionate Jewish young adults are attracted to the houses. In fact, most of the participants at the San Diego retreat actually came from the East Coast, with our farthest traveling participants coming all the way from Australia and Kazakhstan. The retreats are the next step that build on Moishe House’s fluid structure that avoids overt distinctions of serving either “participants” or “leaders/educators.” Instead, all Jewish young adults can feel like they have a place at Moishe House, as they grow and evolve based on where they are with respect to their Judaism and stage in life.  This design of constant growth and the ability to begin participation at any level is also what attracts motivated and entrepreneurial-minded young adults. The retreats are one place where this growth and entrepreneurialism is actualized, as participants find meaning in the daily work they are doing for their Jewish communities, and utilize their global network as sources for current and future collaboration. It was beautiful to witness young adults from around the world coming together to share their passions for Jewish culture, tradition, and education.  Being able to participate in this global network with such thoughtful and motivated individuals made for a powerful weekend.

Traveling to San Diego to participate in the Ignite Retreat, I had hoped to enjoy the weekend, gain greater insight to Moishe House, and develop my professional and leadership skills.  All these goals were accomplished and much more.  The weekend began by pushing me out of my comfort zone and causing me to reexamine how I currently engage in Jewish life. I gained a deep understanding of the Moishe House experience not only through objective metrics, but from personal experience.  Now that I have experienced it first hand, I feel better positioned to contribute to the Foundation’s work in supporting Moishe House. I have formed connections with the staff and am now a part of a network of Jewish leaders from across the world. I have a heightened awareness of the ever-evolving landscape of Jewish education and my commitment to prioritizing my involvement in its evolution has been strengthened. I now more thoroughly understand what the Foundation aspires to achieve through its grantmaking—and my personal passion for Jewish education and philanthropy have been rejuvenated. Regardless of one’s role in a funding organization—be it executive director, program officer, or member of the administrative team—a site visit provides real value and insights that ultimately benefit the grantee and the broader field of Jewish education.

Rachel Halevi is an administrative assistant at the Jim Joseph Foundation.






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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.