Back home in Dayton, Ohio, the Jewish community is tiny. The only way to engage in that community is to go to services and see the same people over and over again. As for the services themselves, you have three choices–reform, conservative, or Chabad.
Here in Chicago, though, it’s quite different. My college campus has as many congregations as Dayton did, and there’s no telling how many exist in the rest of the city. (Well, there are probably statistics on that, but I won’t bore you with those.)
One interesting take on Judaism that I found here is the Moishe House, which is a series of organizations that cater towards young Jews and provide social events for them to mingle at. The first Moise House opened in January 2006 in Oakland, California, and many more have followed throughout the United States. There are even Moishe Houses in other countries, like China, England, and Argentina.
A Moishe House consists of around four people who live together and plan social events for the Jewish community in their city. These events are tailored to young adults from 21 to 30 years old. Not all the events directly involve Judaism–there are book clubs, parties, and volunteering opportunities.
Chicago has two Moishe Houses, one of which is specifically for the Russian Jewish community. That’s the one I’m involved in (though “involved in” is used loosely here, since college and marching band leave me little time to make it out to Chicago and hang out at the Moishe House). It’s also where my older brother lives, since he’s one of the Moishe House’s residents.
So far I’ve gone to a Shabbat dinner, an Israeli Movie Night, and a Halloween party. Each time, the Moishe House was full of different people to meet, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s really refreshing to get away from the college campus every once in a while. It seems like a great way to meet people who might not go to your synagogue or school, or work at your company. Since most of the Moishe House’s participants are already out of college, it’s one of the few ways for me to meet and make friends with people who are older than me and can provide guidance that fellow college kids couldn’t.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to the Moishe House. For instance, because most of the events are open and anybody can show up, I’ve seen way too many creepy older guys who, my brother half-jokes, come there to meet younger women. To me, that ruins the atmosphere because it’s meant as a place for young people to schmooze, not get checked out by aging bachelors. Aside from that, sometimes some of the guests really don’t care much about fostering a sense of community and come in small, impenetrable cliques. It’s like high school all over again.
That said, though, it’s great to feel a connection to something larger than myself–Chicago’s Russian Jewish community. This is a big city, and I don’t know how I’d branch out from the college bubble without something like the Moishe House. It’s great to have a real, diverse Jewish community for the first time in my life.