A group of young, Jewish, Toronto-based leaders who are active in building dynamic Jewish programming for young adults expected to get support from Moishe House for the work they do, but were surprised instead when they were turned down to be Toronto’s first Moishe House.
The Toronto folks are looking to inspire more people to speak out and convince Moishe House to help them organize for the Toronto community, which was home to nearly 200,000 Jews as of 2011.
Here’s their letter:
We received unfortunate news last week that Moishe House will no longer be considering us as a potential candidate.
You are probably aware of the grassroots community building that we have started pursuing in the community and we believe that we have something important and unique to offer. Many of you have been in our home and experienced the mix of openness, inclusivity, and fresh engagement with Jewish life that we are actively working to foster in the Toronto Jewish community.
We have been in contact with Moishe House all year as well as donor representatives and based on those conversations we are confident that the work we have been doing this year has helped to push forward the idea of a Moishe House in Toronto. Unfortunately, we were recently told that for unspecified reasons our house “wouldn’t be a good fit”. As far as we know, there is little interest in starting a Moishe House from other Torontonians and no other group of people has applied. It seems that rather than us being passed over for another candidate or group, we are getting the message that funders and staff feel we aren’t up to the task of being Toronto’s first Moishe House.
Based on the surprise and upset we have heard from our community in response to this decision, we have decided to continue the conversation and appeal the decision. You have already been supporting us personally and informally and we would now greatly appreciate your formal support. We are collecting signatures as well as testimonials to help show Moishe House that not only are we ready to take on this role in the community but that the community is ready and behind us. We truly believe that what we are doing is in line with the Moishe House vision and that becoming a Moishe House will further enable us to engage with Jews looking to be more involved in Toronto.
Please sign our petition here and if you’d like to write a testimonial, please be in touch.
All our best,
Aaron, Andi, Daina, Isaac and Miriam
I spoke to David Cygielman, Founder and CEO of Moishe House, over the phone today. He told me that they are “planning on opening a Moishe House in Toronto and we have had both multiple groups and individuals, but no one’s been approved.” Cygielman explained that when the organization moves into a new big city they start with a “group that doesn’t exist yet, without an existing program structure.” He added that there is “no secret thing or something they did that was wrong.”
Cygielman also said, “I can 100% understand how that can be challenging to hear, because they are doing great.”
Indeed, everyone I speak to has a different opinion on this. Some say it makes sense. After all, the idea is to encourage more people to get on board with organizing for Jewish young adults and bringing a fresh group together can make for a broader network. Others say it is, in effect, punishing those who pour their hearts into the work of actualizing Jewish communal life for having taken the initiative. They say that these groups are the experts, ready to hit the ground running with already broad networks established.
As well, Cygielman mentioned that he thinks the Moishe House Without Walls program, which supports organizers on a program by program basis, is an option for them.
Moishe House, which hosts 63 houses in 14 countries, seems to be an important framework and the Toronto house is serious about pushing the issue.
Isaac Kates Rose, a member of the Toronto group wrote, “[I]f you know me, you know that I really believe in grassroots Jewish community-building, if you know the people I know, you know that we have been working all year to create a new kind of Jewish space in Toronto’s downtown. If you believe in us, please consider taking a look at this and signing it (with or without a comment), especially if you’ve spent any time by us for holidays, Shabbatot, screenings, learnings, nothings, everythings.”
Moishe house has, in the past, made abrupt and questionable choices. Last summer, Moishe House shut down a set of parlour meetings that were set to take place at a few Moishe Houses about Israel and Palestine, focused on the Occupation.
Here’s that petition link once again: https://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/moishe-house-reconsider-making-342-howland-toronto-s-first-moishe-house
A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth