An anniversary celebration, a backyard concert and a camping trip are just a few of the activities the residents of Milwaukee’s first Moishe House are planning for their second year in operation.
Leah Biller and Nicole Gorelik opened the city’s first Moishe House in June 2021, expanding the reach of a nonprofit with locations across the country and around the world. Moishe House, based in California, began in 2006 to engage Jewish young adults.
The nonprofit provides resources for Jewish adults to live together in a house that also plays host to programming for the local community. Moishe House aims to engage young adults in their 20s and early 30s.
At the end of last year, 153 Moishe House sites were open, and 16 new locations are anticipated this year, according to director of expansion Joshua Goldberg. No additional sites are planned in Milwaukee at this time.
Biller, a psychiatric nurse, and Gorelik, a graduate student at Marquette University, started what’s called a Moishe Pod, a two-resident Moishe home, on Milwaukee’s east side. With one year as program hosts finished, the pair renewed for a second year.
“When we started, it was so successful that the fire just kept going, and it kept getting bigger, because we just had so much traffic,” Biller said. “Our community members are the people that keep us going and keep the energy up, just because they’re so involved too.”
Biller said she thinks their Moishe Pod succeeded in its first year because guests are not asked to define their Judaism any particular way. Some events have put Judaism front and center, such as Shabbat dinners. But others are purely social – think kickball, trivia and roller skating.
Gorelik said the events are open to all community members, and attendees do not have to be Jewish. In fact, she said, some of the regulars at their Moishe Pod are not.
“If we have a Shabbat dinner, we do some quick prayers, nothing too extensive, and non-Jews can enjoy and appreciate the culture and the new experience, because many times, they haven’t been to a Shabbat before,” she said.
Biller estimated casual events in their first year drew 10 to 15 attendees. Bigger events attracted 25 to 30 guests.
She said she and Gorelik have used social media, including Facebook and Instagram, to spread the word about their activities. She added that other local organizations, including NextGen at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Young Jewish Professionals of Milwaukee, help cross-promote each other’s offerings to drum up attendance.
During their first year hosting Moishe Pod events, Biller and Gorelik said they learned their guests prefer lighter, more social events over those with educational content.
“They want a space to hang out and be Jewish in whatever way they want, and I think that’s what people are really loving,” Gorelik said. “It’s not come over and we’re going to learn the Torah portion for the week or whatever. It’s, hey come over, we’re going to have dinner and a really fun activity. That’s what people are gravitating towards.”
* * *