The Moishe House offers informal Jewish programming to millennials living in pockets of the city.

Yitzy Childress recently stood on a deck atop a Federal Hill rowhouse, gazing at the city skyline on a clear, breezy afternoon. The bearded, lanky 27-year-old, who this fall will begin his computer science studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, admitted he’s going to miss the Moishe House, where he has lived for the past six months but visited regularly for the past four years.

A 2007 Yeshivat Rambam graduate who grew up in Northwest Baltimore’s Orthodox community, Childress credits the Moishe House with reconnecting him to Judaism.

“My Jewish identity had become nil,” he says. “I rejected the religious tenets and lost all Jewish identity. But someone invited me here for a Shabbos dinner and I loved it. It was very friendly and warm, and I kept coming back. I started accepting my Jewish heritage again and saw everything isn’t just black and white.”

Childress is a Moishe House success story. An international organization founded in 2006 in the San Francisco area, Moishe House has grown to more than 100 locations across the U.S. and in 25 other countries, offering informal programming and activities for young Jews.

Largely supported by The Associated, the local Moishe House has been located at 1213 William St. in Federal Hill for the past seven years. At any given time, a rotation of three Jewish 20-somethings have lived in the house and are allotted subsidies to defray rental costs and provide ongoing programming and activities – Jewish-themed and general – for young Jews in the area.

This can range from Shabbat and holiday dinners to board game nights to social justice projects to simply watching sporting events on TV while enjoying a nosh and a beer, said Childress, who currently lives with Moishe House denizens Rachel Dechowitz and Shmuel Morgenstein. (Of the three current Moishe House residents, only Dechowitz will return, at a new in-town location to be determined.) Promotion of Moishe House events is conducted through social media, a Listserv and word-of mouth.

“I’ve really had a lot of fun here,” says Childress, who recently graduated from Baltimore City Community College. “I’ve gotten close to the people here, and getting to host and craft events has been great. This was perfect for me, and now I’m much more excited about finishing my college career. …

“The purpose of Moishe House is to keep up a level of enthusiasm about Judaism among the young adult population without being heavy-handed.”

Molly Cram, Mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Moishe House, agrees. “We build community for young Jews, with a physical house and events,” says Cram, who is the Baltimore house’s go-to person. “A lot of young people don’t want to go to a shul. What’s great about this model is it’s homegrown. Residents say these programs are meaningful for them and others. It’s empowering.”

And being located downtown means young Jews in the city have a venue that suits their needs and interests, said Childress.

“Moishe House should always be accessible, fun, cool,” he says. “It made me comfortable to grow as a young Jew because I wasn’t told I had to follow any rules or policies. We find here that being Jewish can be what you define it to be.”

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Top photo: Yitzy Childress says the Moishe House helped reignite his connection to Judaism.

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