Band Of Brothers
Residents of Moishe House Royal Oak celebrate their first anniversary.
Put five good-looking, single young men together in one house and you could have a sequel to Animal House. Or you could have the Moishe House in Royal Oak, a social center for suburban Jewish young adults.
The house is the successor to the Motor City Moishe House, which opened in Midtown Detroit to great fanfare in 2011 and closed two years later. For one year, Detroit also had a Repair the World Moishe House, a partnership with the Repair the World volunteer service organization.
There’s no juicy story here about Moishe House abandoning the city in favor of the suburbs. The leases were up at the Detroit Moishe House, and the fact there were separate leases for the upstairs and downstairs complicated the process. Some of the original residents no longer wanted to handle the responsibility of running a Moishe House.
Living in a Moishe House has perks, including subsidized rent and a grant of $400 a month to coordinate social activities. But coordinating those events — residents commit to coordinating at least three each month — takes time and effort, and communal living can be stressful. The Detroit Moishe House residents didn’t know each other before they moved in together. And some were pushing the age limit; Moishe Houses are designed for people ages 22-30.
Around the time the Detroit house closed, Ben Goutkovitch, 23, who grew up in Royal Oak, was planning to move to California. He applied to live in a Moishe House there. When his plans changed, the Moishe House coordinators asked if he’d like to get some friends together and start a new house in the Detroit area.
Goutkovitch, a graduate of the Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit and Michigan State University who now works as a song leader and guitar teacher, got together with three friends he knew from his many years at Tamarack Camps: Josh Stewart, Jordan Rosenbaum and Josh Fishman.
Last October, the men moved in to a spacious but unpretentious house on North Washington, a few blocks from Royal Oak’s thriving downtown. The fifth roommate, Josh Leider, joined them a month later.
The young men have known each other for years as campers, counselors and supervisors at Camp Tamarack. Among them, they say, they have 78 years of Tamarack experience.
“We’re used to living together in close quarters,” said Josh Stewart, 25, who grew up in West Bloomfield, graduated from the University of Michigan and is in the process of applying to medical school.
“Because we spent our formative years at Tamarack, we have similar values, thoughts and beliefs. This makes living and working together enjoyable, rather than stressful.”
The guys refer to their home as “MoHo.”
Started In California
Moishe House was started in Oakland, Calif., in 2006 by David Cygielman, who felt there was a lack of programming for Jewish young adults who had finished college but not yet settled down with a family.
For the first two years, the program was funded entirely by philanthropist Morris Squire. He remembered family friends calling him “Moishe” when he was young, and asked Cygielman to use that name for the program.
There are now 45 Moishe Houses throughout the United States and 24 in 16 other countries including Argentina, Australia, China, Israel, Poland, Russia and South Africa.
Each Moishe House is funded by its local community. Some are funded by federations or foundations, and some, including Detroit, by individual donors.
A regional director based in Charlotte, N.C., checks in with the Royal Oak house every week and makes frequent visits.
Other than that, it’s up to the residents to plan and carry out programs designed to attract young Jewish adults in the community. Most of the programs are free, and they’re open to all.
“In most of the other houses, the residents didn’t know each other before they moved in together,” said Rosenbaum, 25, who grew up in West Bloomfield, graduated from Michigan State and is job hunting. “They were surprised that we all get along so well and know each other so well.”
The men try to do a Shabbat dinner and a Sunday brunch at least once a month. In addition to the traditional chicken-and-kugel-style Friday night meals, they’ve done Mexican, Thai and Italian-themed dinners.
The men confess they don’t do too much of the cooking. Meals often come from restaurants or caterers. For a pre-Rosh Hashanah Shabbat dinner, Ben’s mother, Ronit Goutkovitch Gill of Royal Oak, did all the cooking.
“We’re all on different schedules, so it’s a little hard for us to cook,” Josh Fishman admitted.
They’re happy to accommodate special diets, including strictly kosher, vegetarian and gluten-free.
During their first year, the Royal Oak MoHo group held 54 programs that attracted more than 1,000 young adults.
They’ve hosted a Kabbalah study and meditation session and brought their mothers in to do cooking demos. Sometimes they partner with other organizations, like a recent New Year’s bar night in Royal Oak co- hosted with NextGen Detroit.
It’s not all fun and games. After the Aug. 11 flood, the men joined Nechama, the Jewish disaster relief team, to clean out basements for some older residents in Oak Park. They’ve also pitched in for a cleanup day on Belle Isle.
They recently formed an advisory board of friends and people who have attended their events to help develop and promote new programs. They welcome everyone in their target age group, no matter where they live or what their religious background is.
“Our goal is to create a place where people can hang out, meet others and feel comfortable,” said Josh Fishman, 26, who graduated from North Farmington High and Michigan State and works as a brand ambassador at his family’s cupcake bakery, Just Baked.
“We’re open to doing anything, either in the house or elsewhere. We’re mobile, friendly, attractive…”
“And we shower daily,” added Rosenbaum with a laugh.
The men have an email mailing list of people interested in Moishe House programs. At the end of every month, they send out the schedule for the coming month. To get on the list, leave a message at their Facebook page, Motor City Moishe House.
— By Barbara Lewis, Contributing Writer/Photos by Jerry Zolynsky