Moishe House heads from Detroit to Royal Oak; Ramah Fellows settle in Ferndale.
In the summer of 2011, Detroit’s first-ever Moishe House opened on East Ferry Street with a great deal of fanfare and high hopes the communal home would be a catalyst for change and attract young Jews to Detroit.
Over the last two years, a handful of young Jewish leaders lived in the seven-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot house in the heart of the city’s Cultural Center and received subsidized rent from generous donors; dozens of programs were held and thousands of 20-somethings participated.
But in July, Moishe House Detroit Midtown quietly closed its doors and so did a second Detroit location known as the Repair the World Moishe House (a service-based site piloted by the Repair the World organization) in the Woodbridge area of the city. That house, which was open for about a year, closed in favor of a new Repair the World residential fellowship; five participants will work on different service projects with local providers. The group will live together in a house in Detroit with a shared workspace.
Now, there’s another move afoot. Four young men — Josh Stewart, Ben Goutkovitch, Jordan Rosenbaum and Josh Fishman — are settling into a brand new Moishe House on North Washington Avenue in Royal Oak.
“Part of the model and part of what makes Moishe House successful is that people in the house transition out about a year and a half after living there,” said Jordan Fruchtman, chief program officer at the group’s headquarters in Oakland, Calif. “What we want is for the young adults who are creating the space to decide the best location.”
Location, Location, Location
Moishe House has 59 communal houses in 13 countries — so why not Detroit? One former resident of the East Ferry Street house who declined to be identified says participants, including graduate students and young professionals, simply got “burned out” hosting and organizing four to six events each month.
“It was a lot of hard work, but it was a positive experience,” the former house member said. “We had wonderful events. I wish there were three to five people who wanted to continue a house in Detroit. It’s just kind of circumstantial, I guess.”
Erik Wodowski, 24, who grew up in West Bloomfield, still lives at the East Ferry Street address. He’s a full-time student at Wayne State University and aspires to become a rabbi someday. He helped run the Moishe House for a year. Wodowski is also an active member and volunteer at Detroit’s Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.
“What’s sad is there’s no more Moishe House in Detroit for now,” he said. “I really believe there will be another one soon. I think it’s necessary. The Jewish community in the city is growing one by one, and Moishe House was a vital part of that.”
Wodowski couldn’t put his finger on exactly why Moishe House Detroit Midtown closed except to say, “Living with people you may not know and moving to a new city has its difficulties.”
He says the experience was meaningful and helped mold him into a strong community leader. He still plans to host future events in Detroit with fellow alumni as part of Moishe Houses’ “Without Walls” program. Former house members simply submit an idea, have the program approved, host it and get reimbursed $100-$175 for expenses.
“I don’t think the Detroit location had anything to do with the fact that it closed,” he said. “I think there are still some people who are nervous about living in the city. But, the Jewish community in the area has really grown exponentially. I definitely think it was a success. It’s a gorgeous house. I love the street, and I’ve made so many friends.”
Impressive Guest List
During its two-year run, Moishe House Detroit Midtown hosted an impressive list of leaders. Dinners were held with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, U.S. Sen. Carl and Barbara Levin, real estate developer and philanthropist A. Alfred Taubman, reggae/alternative rock musician Matisyahu and Teddy Abrams, the new 24-year-old assistant conductor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
There also was an artists’ showcase and a Chanukah program held in conjunction with a menorah lighting at Campus Martius Park. A “how to do Shabbat” learning retreat was one of the bigger events at the Repair the World Moishe House. Josh Kanter, 27, of Huntington Woods, a community outreach associate for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, lived in the house and took part in the retreat.
“It was a full Shabbat experience with 20 other young adults and a handful of educators from around the country,” Kanter said. “It gave us the skills, confidence and resources to create a meaningful, warm and inspiring Shabbat experience.”
All told, both houses collectively hosted 196 programs and engaged more than 4,000 attendees, including 1,904 first-time participants, according to Adam Finkel, 27, of Bloomfield Hills. He single-handedly raised $80,000 to bring the first Moishe House to Detroit.
“Many metrics showcase this was a positive investment,” Finkel said. “The move from Detroit to Royal Oak can continue to expand Moishe House’s presence in the community.”
Miryam Rosenweig agrees. She’s the director of NEXTGen Detroit, a division of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit focused on creating a vibrant young Jewish community for people ages 21-45.
“It’s not an emigration away from Detroit,” she said. “A huge number of young Jewish people have moved to Detroit compared to where they were two years ago. The Downtown Synagogue now has a full-time staff person, so they’ve become the hub of activity. The new [Moishe House] residents want to live in Royal Oak. There isn’t as much of a presence right now in Royal Oak, and a lot of young Jews live there. It’s an opportunity to reach more people in a new area.”
Just down Woodward Avenue in Ferndale, another group of young Jewish leaders is settling into a communal house of a different kind. Three Ramah Fellows — one from New York, one from Los Angeles and one from West Bloomfield — were selected as the first-ever Ramah Service Corps fellows as part of another pilot program.
It’s a full-time job, supervised and mentored by veteran Detroit educator Rebecca Starr and paid for with funding from the William Davidson Foundation. The Ramah-affiliated college graduates were selected following an application and interview process; they receive an undisclosed salary, free housing and a car to share.
The fellows will be working in local Conservative congregations, with Federation, the Jewish Community Centers and other agencies to engage families, children and young adults while also recruiting for camp.
“Everyone’s extremely excited about the unique, new nature of the program,” Starr explained. “They’re going to host peer events and work on bringing more Jewishness to the Conservative world and trying to educate their peer group especially about what that means.”
The Ramah camping movement began in 1947 through the National Ramah Commission and the Jewish Theological Seminary; there are eight residential camps and three day camps across North America. Metro Detroiters typically attend Camp Ramah in Canada, about two hours north of Toronto.
“The Ramah experience is a great way to expand your Jewish identity in an intensive environment for the summer,” said Hillel Buechler, 23, of New York, one of the fellows. The recent Brandeis graduate has never been to Michigan before. Eli Jacober, 23, of Los Angeles, joins him as a newcomer to town. Eli worked at three different Ramah camps. He’s also a professional baker who’s bracing himself for his first real Michigan winter. Fellow No. 3 is a young woman who’s right at home in Metro Detroit. Darrien Sherman, 22, grew up in Bloomfield Hills and graduated from the University of Michigan. She was a camper at Ramah Canada from ages 10-17 and also worked there as a staff member for two years.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to get Ramah’s presence back on the map and strengthen the Metro Detroit connection to Ramah Canada,” she said. “[Being a Ramah Fellow] is also a way to give back to the Detroit community. There are so many opportunities presenting themselves here for young Jews.”
For more information about Moishe House, go to ww.moishehouse.org. For more about Ramah camps, go to www.campramah.org.
Four Men And A House
Meet the guys behind Moishe House Royal Oak.
Metro Detroit’s newest Moishe House already has a built-in rivalry. Three house members are Michigan State University grads and one is a graduate of the University of Michigan. They all spent several years together and became friends at Tamarack Camps. We asked the group what inspired them to start a Moishe House in Royal Oak.
“We want to give post-graduate adults and young professionals a place to feel the sense of Jewish community we think is currently missing,” said Josh Fishman, 25, of Farmington Hills. “Many of us were involved with Hillel or other Jewish organizations, and it’s easy to lose sight of those opportunities upon entering the professional world. There are many people ages 22-30 who moved away from Michigan after college and have since returned to the Detroit area. Our hope is that the Moishe House will be a place to bring our rapidly growing community back together.”
The new house members:
• Josh Fishman, 25, of Farmington Hills
A graduate of Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills and a lifelong camper/counselor at Tamarack Camps in Ortonville, Josh spent a year working at Michigan State Hillel as a program associate and also played an active role as a student.
“We hope to bring people who are currently uninvolved in the Jewish community to our Moishe House.”
• Jordan Rosenbaum, 24, of West Bloomfield
Jordan is a 2012 graduate of Michigan State. He works for Centria Healthcare in Brighton.
“I’m excited to use this opportunity to establish my own relationship with the Jewish community of Detroit as an adult.”
• Josh Stewart, 24, of West Bloomfield
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Josh is currently taking classes at Wayne State University and plans to apply for medical school this summer.
“I have experience as a teacher and discussion facilitator at U-M and a supervisor at Tamrack,” he says. “I am very comfortable organizing, networking, reaching out to new people and anything else that’s needed.”
• Ben Goutkovitch, 22, of West Bloomfield
Ben grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, but his parents are Israeli, so he also speaks Hebrew. He attended Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield and has been an active participant at the Jewish Community Center, MSU Hillel and Tamarack Camps. He’s a Michigan State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He also has a music background.
By Robin Schwartz, Contributing Writer