- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

DETROIT (AP) - As the skies darkened and streets quieted in a Detroit neighborhood on a recent Friday evening, a cozy brown brick home swelled with light and sound.

The residents at the newly opened Moishe House in historic Indian Village had invited visitors to celebrate a Shabbat dinner to end the work week. Organizers hope to make the house a hub of Jewish life for post-college 20-somethings “who might not want to join local institutions the way previous generations have,” a leader said.

There, about two dozen guests circled tables, some singing in Hebrew and raising wine glasses as white candles flickered, The Detroit News (https://detne.ws/24GC1pS ) reported.

Hayley Sakwa, who lives in the house, explained the tradition is about “just trying to refill.”

“Because we spend so much time during the week giving of ourselves constantly to our jobs, to our friends, to our relationships, whatever it may be, and it’s exhausting,” she said. “Shabbat is about setting that all aside and just refilling and relaxing. . I hope this space can be that for you both tonight and throughout the rest of the year.”

That communal spirit guides the five residents as they work to create a grass-roots community by hosting programs ranging from activist activities to religious celebrations. It’s the second site in Michigan - the other is in Royal Oak - and the only one still operating in Detroit for the international nonprofit Moishe House initiative, which aims to double the number of its Jewish young adult, peer-led communities worldwide by 2017.

“We feel like there are so many really great and worthy groups that are functioning in Detroit and downtown and in the neighborhoods,” said resident Paul Green, originally from Huntington Woods. “Why try and reinvent the wheel when we can connect people and, in the simple sense, build community to help people connect, find each other and do great projects?”

Moishe House launched in 2006 after four Jews in their 20s started hosting Shabbat dinners in California. It now boasts more than 80 sites in some 20 countries.

Those sites typically involve “young people who care and want to be involved in something and often find that the existing outlets aren’t meaningful to them,” said Larry Gast, the group’s Midwest director of institutional advancement.

“So we give them the opportunity to create that for themselves.”

Adam Finkel, a partner at Bloomfield Hills-based Orfin Ventures, visited a home and worked with supporters to duplicate the venture locally. He hopes to help young people “become leaders here and be part of the revitalized energy and community service options in the national framework.”

Funding was secured to cover the subsidized rent as well as a programming budget, Finkel said. The first Detroit location, launched in 2011 in the city’s Midtown neighborhood near many cultural attractions, “created such a buzz in the community,” Finkel said.

Those occupants stayed for nearly two years. New Moishe House applicants then formed a site in Royal Oak, which launched in 2013, Gast said.

But, he added, “the whole time, we were like: ‘We want to move back to Detroit.’ We saw this hunger for young adults to live in the city, to give back, to help rebuild the community that was there before. And for us it was something we wanted to be a part of.”

The focus coincides “with a growing presence of young people living in the city” - including Jews, said Miryam Rosenzweig, incoming chief development officer at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. “The whole idea of Moishe is that it’s a house that’s creating a Jewish environment around it. … It’s enriching a Jewish fabric in the city of Detroit.”

The five who moved into the Indian Village location sought a spot in an area not historically known as having a large Jewish presence.

“For us it was important to have our visitors understand that there’s more to Detroit than just Midtown and downtown - that there are people in this city who have lived here years and years,” said Gabe Neistein, a graduate student from West Bloomfield Township. “We wanted to be part of more of a community.”

So they chose a five-bedroom house nearly a century old and spacious enough to accommodate the frequent gatherings the tenants are tasked with coordinating. Those events - some involving other groups - fall into categories such as social, holidays, Jewish learning and giving back.

Detroit Jews for Justice recently met there to advocate for paid sick leave in Michigan; on another night, costumed guests noshed on hamantaschen treats during a Purim party. At a backyard brunch on a sunny Saturday, more guests congregated near the custom-made raised beds in which residents plan to grow a community garden.

“Our greatest goal is to create a space that was flexible,” said resident Abby Rubin, who grew up in Ohio and attended the University of Michigan. “We’ve created a really great community already and it’s only going to expand as we move forward in our programming. I’m excited to be that connector for people who are coming in.”

At the recent Shabbat dinner, guests breezed past the entryway’s mezuzah, which features a Hebrew prayer to bless homes, and into a front room full of sofas and photos showing Detroit destinations. Conversation mingled with the wafting scent of warm chicken laid out amid platters of gefilte fish, homemade vegetable salad and other dishes.

Seated at a table with new acquaintances, visitor Matt Friedrichs of Detroit relished the scene. “It’s wonderful that they have this attitude, no matter who you are, where you come from: ‘Come eat with us, be with us,’” he said.


Information from: The Detroit News, https://detnews.com/

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