Moishe House opens second Canadian outpost in Toronto

Dave Cygielman

TORONTO — Moishe House, an international organization that seeks to provide meaningful Jewish experiences for young adults, opened in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood earlier this month.

The residents of all 74 international houses are primarily post-college young adults who, in exchange for subsidized living accommodations, are given a budget to organize and host seven or more programs and volunteer opportunities a month in their respective communities.  

The non-denominational organization began in 2006 with four friends in Oakland, Calif., hosting their peers for Shabbat dinner. The Toronto house is the second one to open in Canada, after one in Vancouver that opened in 2011.

Thornhill native Amanda Snow, who works as a fund development co-ordinator at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, is one of five residents, all in their mid-20s, of Moishe House Toronto.

The other four residents, who will live in the house near Dupont Street and Spadina Road for one to three years, are Brett Karp, Aaron Savatti, Abigail Engelsman and Jillian Windman. The residents pay rent, which is heavily subsidized by local philanthropists.

“How often do you see an event but you don’t want to go by yourself? Moishe House gives you a family to do that with,” Snow said. 

“We’re bringing people in, in a social way, and introducing them to what is available in this community through every community organization. We’re trying to engage with everyone in the community who want to engage with us. We want the community to tell us what they want.” 

Moishe Houses can be found in cities such as Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, Shanghai and, Sydney, Australia. Residents typically live in them for one to three years. They’re currently in 17 countries and engage more than 5,200 young Jews in programs year-round.

The opening of Moishe House Toronto – which attracted more than 150 people to its inaugural housewarming event on Jan. 17 – is part of a growth strategy that aims to double the number of locations by 2017.

 “About a year ago at a board meeting, a board member [asked about] the cities that have the most number of young adults [and] where we can make the largest impact of engaging young Jewish adults on a local level, and Toronto was on the top of that list,” said David Cygielman, founder and CEO of Moishe House.

“I hope down the road that there are multiple Moishe Houses in Toronto,” he said at the opening event. “One of the unique things about Moishe House is that it allows young adults to be the creators and leaders of the community, which is really nice… They really step up and do an amazing job when given a real opportunity to do it.”

Moishe House residents and participants can also take part in learning and leadership retreats, and residents can go to an annual resident leadership conference each summer.

“The idea is to be able to connect to one another and your Jewish community and Jewish experience in today’s world,” Cygielman said. “It’s even more important to be able to feel like you have that connection and network internationally.” 

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Community Connect (COCO), federation’s young adult engagement arm, is collaborating with Moishe House in the hope of creating inspiring Jewish experiences for young professionals, said Jessica Taylor, manager of leadership initiatives with COCO.

“We feel a special connection to the Moishe House, as residents Jillian Windman, Aaron Savatti, Brett Karp and Amanda Snow are all active members of our Taglit-Birthright Israel CIE Madrichim training program, and we’ve already started to get to know Abi Engelsman through COCO’s Live the Cause volunteer initiative,” Taylor said.

“This team certainly has the skills and passion to make a great impact on our community through their work with the Moishe House.”