by Sue Fishkoff, JTA.org
|Moishe House Baltimore|
SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- Ben Levinson, 28, was born and raised in St. Louis. He returned after college to find most of the Jewish friends he grew up with had moved away.
That’s not unusual: St. Louis is one of many U.S. cities with shrinking Jewish populations and, as in other cities, the young are the first to leave.
“There are no hard figures, but there’s a tendency to lose young Jews from St. Louis,” said Meg Crane, senior writer at the local Jewish federation.
The last Jewish population study of the city, in the mid-1990s, counted 54,000 Jews.
Levinson thought about leaving, too, he told JTA.
“Then I started to get involved with Moishe House," he said. "That helped keep me here.”
Moishe House is a national organization that provides rent subsidies and a programming budget for groups of three to five Jews in their 20s who agree to live in downtown neighborhoods with large numbers of 20-something Jews. They must turn their home into a hub of regularly scheduled Jewish activities for their peers.
From one house in San Francisco in 2006, the network has grown to 36 houses in 14 countries -- 22 of them in the United States. More than 40,000 young Jews each year take part in Moishe House events, which range from Shabbat meals and Jewish learning to service projects and social get-togethers.
"We're getting a lot of applications," said David Cygielman, 29, the organization’s founder and CEO.
The original goal was to help young Jews build their own community and find meaning in their Judaism. But as the houses multiplied, the peer-led houses of rollicking Jewish energy became seen as a great way for foundations and Jewish federations to engage the next generation of Jews in Jewish communal life, especially in cities where young Jews are moving away.
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