When young American Jews return from Israel, they are often asked about the political situation there. At times, it can become a burden, especially when recent returnees are more interested in sharing their personal experiences and what they learned about Israeli culture, its vibrant arts scene, its booming hi-tech sector and its openness. Of course, the longing for fresh hummus – from a street café or a small Arab village – sets in as soon as the first bag is unpacked and photo is shared on Instagram.
“Every member of our house likes to make hummus from scratch,” said organizer and Moishe House resident Zachary Demby. “We’ve all been to Israel and don’t really like the commercial stuff that we can buy here, so we decided to invite our foodie friends and have a contest with Iron Chef-style commentary. But we were at an end-of-the-month budget crunch. The Jewish Agency grant was a resource to make it bigger and better.”
Moishe House Pittsburgh, which currently hosts five full-time residents, used the grant to purchase extra blenders and ingredients that were used to make three types of hummus: an olive dip, an Asian hummus with chili paste, and a traditional fat-free hummus. Two of the three competitors were non-residents.
The Jewish Agency began a partnership with Moishe House in 2012 as part of a broader effort to partner with innovative Jewish organizations that engage younger Jewish adults in urban enclaves. In addition to Moishe House, The Jewish Agency has worked with Hazon, America’s largest Jewish environmental group, and A Wider Bridge, a Jewish organization that focuses on building a connection between LGBT communities and Israel.
Since last November, Jewish Agency grants have funded 59 Moishe House Israeli-themed programs. These programs have included performances by Israeli artists, film screenings and Israeli cuisine. By and large, the programs have not focused on politics. Nearly 1,350 people have attended these programs, with the average attendance higher than non-Israel-focused programs.
“Young Jewish adults are being bombarded with information about Israel and the Middle East from all sides,” said Matthew Weiner, Moishe House’s regional director for the Midwest. “Most of it is very politically charged, and, for the most part, causes the effect of having young adults tune out Israel all together. The purpose of this grant and our partnership with The Jewish Agency for Israel is to highlight all of the amazing cultural aspects of Israel. To remind people about all of the amazing things happening in Israel that can be shared with the world, and our residents have responded to it enthusiastically."
Politics can be fraught with tension. While the political questions are intense and must be dealt with at some point, cultural programs are an ideal way to set the stage for deeper dialogue and engagement.
Demby (22), who recently led a Taglit Birthright Israel trip, believes that cultural events are the ideal vehicle to draw in young Jews. Moishe House residents and guests are often Birthright alums who are still processing their experiences and sorting their relationships with Israel.
And what better way to reminisce than with pita and homemade hummus?