When Hannah Leeman moved into the Philadelphia Moishe House last June, it was with certain expectations. Leeman and her roommates were given the charge to create a hub for as many of their Jewish peers as possible in a given week, offering social events, Shabbat dinners, lectures and more.
And when those scores of their peers weren’t stuffed into the house, as they expected of a typical Friday night, the residents would be able to work on their professional lives; Leeman, a former employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University, is in the midst of applying to medical schools.
Suffice it to say, the pandemic has forced Leeman and the other residents of the two Moishe House locations in Philadelphia to change their expectations, to say nothing of the more than 100 locations all over the world. But according to some of the young professionals who live there, the circumstances have allowed for new innovations in programming that they can take into a post-pandemic future.
“It’s been a challenging and interesting time for everyone, but it really, like, totally changed the way that we approach our programs,” Leeman said.
At the Philadelphia Moishe House, Leeman lives with three roommates, a dynamic that offers interesting challenges even in normal times. After all, her roommates also happen to be her co-workers.
Thankfully, Leeman said, she and her roommates had a strong enough relationship to help them sail through the more difficult parts of remaining indoors, in tighter quarters and more frequent contact than they had ever had. It helped, of course, that she traveled home to Maine for a little while, but even with a full house, the new arrangement has proven fruitful.
And don’t just take her word for it. Jeremy Snyder, a graphic designer from Lawrenceville, New Jersey, has lived in the house since early 2018, predating Leeman and the two other housemates.
“We just generally get along,” he reported.
The transition from the daily activity of a normal Moishe House to online events, however, has been a little more difficult. It was attending those sorts of events a few years ago that convinced him to come and live in a Moishe House in the first place. Leeman, too, added that it was “a real loss” to be restricted to online events only.
What is gained, each of them said, was the ability to reach a much wider audience. Though it is more difficult to develop lasting relationships with locals who attend their online events — which include yoga, Shabbat prayers, meditation sessions and more — it is a way to spread awareness of Moishe House, for whatever comes next.
“We’ve really been on the same page in terms of the vision that we have for creating community,” Leeman said.
At the RSJ (Russian Speaking Jewish) Moishe House in University City, circumstances are different. The house was founded in March, and just two in-person events were held before lockdown began. To lose that momentum, according to Jonathan Yakubov, a founding house member, was frustrating.
Still, the cooking, yoga and Shabbat events that he and roommates have hosted have proven to be pretty popular, drawing in the people that Yakubov had hoped to see in person. One event, a virtual tour of the Louvre Museum, drew such a high level of interest that it’s been moved from Zoom to Facebook Live; the organizers expect more than 500 attendees.
“It’s interesting to see how some of our events are reaching people we didn’t expect, just because it’s being posted on Facebook and people are sharing it,” Yakubov said.