The New Moishe House reflects the Jewish heritage of Seattle’s Central District

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Madison Holt, 22, graduated from Indiana University this year and moved to Seattle in part because of the thriving Jewish community.

Holt was assumed to reside in the newly opened Seattle Central District Moishe house, a residential community for young Jewish adults in the same neighborhood where Seattle’s first Jewish community took root in the 1890s. After two years of pandemic distancing and living in a world where anti-Semitism is on the rise, Holt and her housemates find solace in Moishe House and are proud of the community they create on CD.

Holt, who is from Bethesda, Maryland, said she was regularly exposed to anti-Semitism on campus in Indiana. She was afraid of being Jewish; She had never felt like this at home. Existing alone as a Jewish student was exhausting.

Instead of hiding her faith, Holt became involved in a Jewish student group. That Group set up Mezuzas, a spiritually uplifting religious symbol, throughout campus. Holt recognized the value of both a close-knit support system and celebrating their culture.

“Intentionally being a part and creating a community became my way of being: ‘I’m alive, I’m Jewish and I’m happy,'” Holt said.

At Moishe House, Holt and her roommates, three other Jewish twenty-somethings, are doing just that: starting a community. In fact, the creation of community is part of the rules of their living situation.

The non-profit Moishe House was founded in 2006 to solve a community problem for young Jews: those too old for college groups and too young for synagogues (more geared towards full-fledged adults and families) had limited opportunities to be with them in Keeping in touch with religious community.

In the Moishe Houses, three to five residents (aged 21 to 32) live together in rent-subsidised houses, mostly in the heart of large cities. The residents have to organize about five community events a month for other young Jews.

Sixteen years after its inception, more than 70,000 young people live together in Moishe Houses in more than 27 countries. In the beginning, Moishe House tried to establish hubs primarily in places with small existing Jewish communities, according to a New York Times article. Now in Seattle, Moishe House is doing something new: reviving Jewish history.

Back to the roots

The new Seattle home, which replaces a Moishe home in North Seattle that closed in 2021 and joins a two-person “pod” in South Seattle, is planting a Jewish community in a neighborhood that Jews are helping to build to have.

Back in the dayFrom the 1890s through World War I, Sephardic Jews established temples, delis, markets, and their lives in the Central District. Over time, they moved to and settled in the Seattle suburbs, such as Seward Park.

Clara Prizont, 24, a roommate at Moishe House who was raised in Seward Park as an Orthodox Jew, is familiar with the legacy of her Central District community’s past.

Every time her mother drove past the Tolliver Temple Church of God in Christ in the Central District, she said, “That used to be our synagogue!” The church still bears the Stars of David, signs of his past life like the Sephardic Bikur Holim Synagogue.

“Anyone who’s been in the Seattle Jewish community is like, ‘Oh, the Central District?'” Prizont said. “‘You going back there?'”

Of course, the landscape of the Central District has changed a lot. After the Jewish community moved out, the area became Seattle’s mostly black neighborhood and remained so for decades. Nowadays, Well over half of the Central District is white. Much of this demographic change is associated with rising rents and skyrocketing real estate prices.

In Seattle, where rents have gone up Up nearly 25% from this time last year, Moishe House’s rent subsidy can make a difference for young people trying to live in the city.

Prizont, a Community Connections worker affiliated with the Jewish Family Service of Seattle, could not afford to live in the Central District without Moishe House. The nonprofit organization subsidizes her $5,500 rent by 50%.

Prizont explained how she and her roommates purposely bring together parts of the historical Jewish community and the new Jewish community. For their house’s first event in August, Leschi Market — a Jewish-owned family business based in CD in the 1940s — donated food.

The history and community remain, Prizont said, even as the Jewish population has dwindled. She described a bus stop near the Moishe house covered in Yiddish words.

“It’s a bit underground,” she said, “but there’s still a really vibrant Jewish community on the disc.”

A new kind of Jewish community

Before she moved here, Holt knew she would be welcome in Seattle, that she would have a home. And just weeks after they met, she and Prizont hit it off like old friends. Prizont had already given her a nickname: “Moose”.

Still, it was hard to shake off old habits and fears.

“The first week I was here,” Holt said, “I asked if it was safe to wear my Jewish star.”

Her roommates reassured her that it was fine, but the basic instinct isn’t necessarily unique, even for Seattle Jews. Nationwide, the Anti-Defamation League recorded 2,717 acts of anti-Semitism in 2021, a 35% increase compared to 2020. Washington state recorded 45 antisemitic incidents in 2021 and 50 in 2020. In January, one rabbi found hateful graffiti a block away from where he works in the Jewish Family Service of Seattle building near the Central District.

“Security is something we think about a lot,” Prizont said. “We don’t publish our address online.”

Surrounding yourself with community helps alleviate some anxieties associated with living in the United States where almost 25% of young Americans either believe the Holocaust did not happen or believe in conspiracies that the tragedy was exaggerated.

Prizont, Holt and their other two roommates have planned events throughout the month to bring young Jewish adults together, such as: an evening of astrology and Judaism for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. On non-event days, Moishe House has an unofficial open-door policy, according to Holt. Anyone can come by. And people do.

According to Nicole Tafoya, Moishe House West Shore development director, 76% of Moishe House residents said their participation in the program has helped them deal with the pandemic.

Now that we’re slowly emerging from the social hibernation of COVID-19, Prizont and Holt said they believe people are hungry for personal human connection. They’ve seen a great response to the events they’ve hosted so far, including singing sessions, a baking benefit party for homeless youth, bagel brunches, a Shabbat dinner featuring local Ethiopian food, and more.

Tafoya explained that these social opportunities are all part of the nonprofit’s mission to help young people connect with the Jewish community.

“Rather than prescribing a single way to be Jewish or to build a Jewish community,” Tafoya said via email, “young adults are empowered and supported with the tools to explore their own identity and culture, and consequently deeper and more relevant ways to build.” to find their own Jewish life.”

Each member of the Moishe House in Seattle’s Central District has a different relationship to Judaism. For example, Prizont was raised Orthodox but is no longer, and Holt grew up with a Jewish mother and a Catholic father.

“It doesn’t matter how Jewish you are — and even if you’re not Jewish — you’re welcome at Moishe House,” Holt said.

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