Around the World in 63 Moishe Houses
OK, not all 63. But several! Read More
We were two would-be vagabonds, Anna and I, traipsing our way up the Pacific Northwest to satisfy a rather urgent sense of wanderlust, charged by equal parts restlessness and East Coast disillusionment. This was in Spring 2013, around the time that Didion-inspired “Goodbye to All That” anthology was published; I had only just graduated from college but already felt worldly enough to dismiss New York outright as “not really my scene” (though, wherever that scene may be, I still do not know).
Anna, always resourceful in matters of being young and broke, took the liberty of contacting some friends-of-friends she knew from her days as a Moishe House resident to find a place for us to crash for the duration of our trip. Moishe House, for the unacquainted, is a non-denominational organization that funds groups of Jewish 20-somethings to live together and host events in their area, with the intention of fostering a sense of Jewish community and identity. We had stayed at MoHo San Francisco the previous year and, having had a fantastic time, decided to give it another shot. Thus, housemates in Portland and Vancouver woke to emails from two spunky young New York women asking if they’d be willing to put us up for a couple nights. And wouldn’t you know it, they were.
Couchsurfing via Moishe House (let’s call it Moishe-surfing) came to be my favorite means of travel. Hotels are sterile and expensive. Hostels are hit-or-miss. A Moishe House has the added bonus of being a community center of sorts—people pass in and out all the time, events take place that are genuinely interesting, and housemates are remarkably sociable (they kind of have to be). And of course, there’s the Jewish angle: each Moishe House provides a glimpse into the Jewish character of its city, from a fun, Millennial point-of-view.
My first West Coast MoHo experience was a candlelit meditation session in San Francisco in April 2012. Anna and I, two secular Russian Jews reared on good old-fashioned immigrant cynicism, reveled in the energy of the event, which was spiritual yet atheist-friendly. Chakras may or may not have been opened. Regardless, I had a good time.
The following April, we embarked on our journey up the Pacific Northwest, sampling a great deal of exceptional coffee along the way. Our first stop was MoHo Portland, to greet our hosts and engage in the first of many rounds of Jewish geography. Unsurprisingly, the network is vastly interconnected—every introduction revealed a smattering of mutual Facebook friends acquired from previous MoHo visits. At the House, we explored the joy of kosher veganism (or rather, vegan kosherism). I tried chia seeds for the first time and jammed with an observant Jew. Frolicking through the temperate rain of northern Oregon, we bonded over our mutual love of falafel and shakshuka, made with free-range eggs or otherwise.
We stopped for two nights with a friend in Seattle (which has no Moishe House right now) and made our way across the Canadian border, into the mountain-hedged city of Vancouver. Once settled in the House, we found ourselves in great company: two Israelis taking a year abroad had made MoHo Vancouver their home-away-from-home, coinciding with our stay. In customary Israeli fashion, we were greeted warmly and loudly. Yehuda and Avior initiated our stay in Canada with song and smoke. Drinks were had and YouTube music exchanged. We also compared Jewfros (Yehuda’s corkscrew mane was far superior to my own). Soon, it was revealed that Anna and I were, in fact, two Rusim: “And did you know, Avior, that balagan is a Russian word?”
My Moishe expeditions would eventually take me to the other side of the world. A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of staying in MoHo Moscow, where three charming young women from Belarus and Russia opened their home to me and a friend. Like the other Houses I’d stayed in, their apartment was adorned with Judaica, but here it seemed a bit more earnest. The sense of Jewish pride was not subtle or implicit, but overt. It reflected a trend I’d witnessed in Jewish communities elsewhere in Russia: those who hadn’t been able to practice Judaism for however many generations now relished the opportunity to make up for lost time.
It was greatly heartening that, thousands of miles away from my country, I was taken in by perfect strangers who hosted me like one of their own. In 63 cities around the world, I can find a home with that familiar Moishe House plaque on its walls, show up at an event, and be welcomed. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good incentive to travel—as if you needed any more.
Samantha Shokin is a freelance writer in Brooklyn.
(Images: supplied by the author.)