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A New Way for Jewish Young Adults to Connect in the Conejo

How do Jewish young adults in the Conejo Valley connect once they graduate from college? And how can we keep them engaged in Jewish life? The answer is simpler than you think. Bring a brilliant concept that’s had success around the world to the Conejo Valley and you get Moishe House Conejo Valley (or as its residents call it, MoHo CV).

Moishe House empowers Jewish young adults in their 20s to create programs and experiences for their Jewish peers in their local community. Living together inside a multi-bedroom house—the home base for many Moishe House events—residents draw on their own interests to develop and host activities that are meaningful for their age group. Planning an active social calendar that revolves around Jewish themes may seem like a full-time job in itself, but each resident has a career outside of Moishe House as well. In addition, these busy young leaders attend monthly retreats to expand their Jewish knowledge and partner with local organizations to share resources, teaming up for select events to build Jewish community among young adults. The Moishe House Conejo Valley joins three other houses in the Los Angeles area and a total of 61 houses across the globe from Beijing to Tel Aviv to Warsaw.

The Jewish Federation strongly believes in the mission of Moishe House and has partnered with the organization on a national scale as well as locally in different ways over the past number of years. In 2013, our Federation provided significant financial support to the three L.A.-area Moishe Houses as part of a new partnership that will strengthen our community’s efforts to engage young adults Jewishly, on their own terms. Under the leadership of Bob Green, a special Conejo Connection Initiative (CCI) Task Force of our Federation’s Valley Alliance was instrumental in bringing the new Moishe House to the Conejo Valley. After surveying the Conejo community and realizing there was a gap in connecting Jewish young adults in their 20s, the CCI recommended Federation funding for young adult programming, along with programs for teens and frail seniors.

“I’m so pleased that the vision of bringing Federation-funded, market-targeted programming to the Conejo has come to fruition in the past two years,” said Bob Green, Chair of the Conejo Connection Initiative task force. “Between Moishe House Conejo Valley and our Federation’s partnership with local synagogues, we’ve very active in filling a much-needed void of programming and a ‘home’ for post-college young adults in their residential community.”

On Sunday, March 9th, lay leaders and supporters of The Jewish Federation got their first glimpse of the new Moishe House, which residents have been living in since the end of January. A spacious property with a large open kitchen, a giant BBQ grill and a backyard patio area, Moishe House Conejo Valley can comfortably fit a few dozen of the Conejo Valley’s Jewish twentysomethings for holiday celebrations, cookouts and more.

Rochelle Cohen, Chair of The Jewish Federation’s Valley Alliance, welcomed everyone and introduced Michael Gropper, a former Federation staff member who has since taken on a role as Moishe House West Coast Regional Director. In Michael’s words, Moishe House “helps young adults form their Jewish identities and create community on their own terms.” Every Moishe House is a place for Jewish learning, repairing the world and social activities—and its residents, said Michael, are “the masters of their own domain.” Thanking the Federation, Michael insisted that the Conejo Valley house would not exist without its support. In fact, the actual chairs on which many in attendance were sitting were donated by our Federation’s Real Estate & Construction (REC) division!

After Michael provided a background on the Moishe House concept, it was time to hear from the first cohort of Conejo Valley residents, a tight-knit group of 24-year-olds with diverse backgrounds, careers and interests. Jonathan Kukawka grew up attending Chabad and has family in Israel. He made aliyah and served in a paratrooper unit in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). A fluent Hebrew speaker, he is currently teaching fellow resident Angela the language, when he’s not participating in Moishe House activities and working his job managing freight for local hospitals.

Like Jonathan, Orit Karni grew up with Chabad and has always felt a strong connection to her Jewish identity. In fact, she even formed the first Jewish sorority on her college campus. However, post-college she felt like a “lost soul,” and longed for an appropriate place to connect with other Jews her age and have Shabbat dinner. With Moishe House, she now feels “whole” again and is so excited to reach out to others who may feel lost or disconnected from the Jewish community as she once did. Outside of Moishe House, Orit runs sports programs for children and adults with disabilities.

Angela King’s father is Catholic and she had no formal Jewish education growing up. However, when she met her best friend Orit on their first day of college, she started going to community Shabbat dinners on campus and felt a strong connection to her Jewish faith. She loves the flexibility of Moishe House and how young adults are able to celebrate their unique Jewish identities in a relaxed, comfortable setting. When she’s not planning events in Conejo Valley, Angela travels throughout the region working as a sign language interpreter.

Sam Aaron went to high school with Jonathan and has a rich Sephardic background. Sam’s mother was raised in Indonesia and his father in Singapore. He attended Hebrew school and celebrated the holidays, but what he connected with most was the Jewish culture. A commercial real estate agent, Sam is very passionate about art and music and looks forward to sharing his love for the arts with everyone who visits the house.

The house also includes a friendly dog named Ian, who was once fostered, then adopted by Orit and Angela.

Once the residents introduced themselves, Rabbi Belle Michael, Campus Rabbi and Director of Hillel at California Lutheran University, led the group in the Shehecheyanu, a prayer recited to bless new experiences, as Sam hammered a mezuzah in the doorway. The mezuzah was part of a box of Judaica that is sent to each Moishe House, which includes Shabbat candlesticks, a menorah and a Seder plate.

Rabbi Michael also asked each of the residents what they consider their “pillars” for the house. Jonathan hopes to bring a sense of family and community to Moishe House, where everyone will feel at home. Sam wants to infuse the home with his passion for art and music. Orit envisions the house as a place everyone feels comfortable being Jewish, and looks forward to filling the home with the smell of baking challah. Angela wants to share the love that she and the other residents have for one another with all who take part in Moishe House activities.

While visitors enjoyed Orit’s indulgent gluten-free banana/blueberry/chocolate chip pancakes, a slideshow of past Moishe House Conejo Valley events was played on the living room TV—yes, even though the house has only been up and running since January, there have already been Shabbat dinners and events! From the looks of it, this house is off to a great start!

Jonathan, Sam, Orit and Angela look forward to joining with other area Moishe Houses for holidays and other activities. Upcoming events for the Conejo house include a Jewish movie night and a softball game with disabled children. To get involved with Moishe House Conejo Valley, visit www.Facebook.com/MoisheHouseCoVe.

The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance Conejo Connection Initiative Task Force is comprised of Chair Bob Green, Kim Cavallo, Orna Eilon, Cheryl Green, Susan Kane, Joel Volk, Laurel Warner and Rob Wynner, with professional staff Carol Koransky and Itamar Harari, Ph.D.

For more information on Moishe House Conejo Valley or other Valley Alliance strategic initiatives, please contact Itamar Harari at IHarari@JewishLA.org

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