Nestled on a pleasant side street at the juncture of Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, the unassuming two-story brick house looks a lot like the others in the neighborhood.
It’s what’s happening inside that makes this house stand out as a model of what Jewish life can be for the supposedly difficult-to-engage 20-somethings who have been causing the traditional, organized Jewish world so much hand-wringing.
Welcome to Moishe House Pittsburgh, founded in 2012, and serving as a home to not only its five full-time residents, but to the hundreds of Jewish millennials who frequent the panoply of religious and social events there several times each month.
On one lovely June evening, the house was filled with about 20 young professionals and grad students, gathered for a cooking program that is part of a series they call “Adulting.” A guest chef demonstrated how to prepare a delicious and budget-friendly marinara sauce and whole wheat pasta. There was laughter and learning shared by an assembly of enthusiastic millennials, reflecting the diversity of today’s Jewish community. Men wearing kippot, members of the LGBTQ community, Jews of various racial backgrounds — all joined together to, as they say, “do Jewish.”
Shabbat dinners, holiday programs, bar nights and educational programs like “Adulting” give those coming to Moishe House a way to celebrate and socialize with other Jews.
“I think we are a good group,” said resident Becca Michelson, who works downtown at a nonprofit. “We bring in people who are drawn to a casual friendly atmosphere.”
Moishe House, a national organization founded in 2006, launched when four Jewish 20-somethings began hosting Shabbat dinners in Oakland, Calif., for their friends and networks. The idea took hold and spread to other communities. There are now 101 houses in 25 countries.
Largely funded by local Jewish federations and individual donors, the residents receive subsidized rent and in exchange are required to plan and implement several programs each month for the wider millennial Jewish community.
“In 2016, our young adult leaders engaged more than 50,000 unique participants through more than 8,500 programs,” said Jason Boschan, director of marketing and communications for Moishe House.
Pittsburgh’s Moishe House, which is supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, hosted 83 programs, serving 300 unique participants in 2016, with a total attendance of 1,385. Thirty percent of its programs were done in partnership with another organization in the community, such as JBurgh.
While a few Moishe Houses throughout the country have closed, most of them are thriving, including Pittsburgh’s, said Boschan, and the organization has plans to open six more houses within the next year. It is poised to be at 140 houses by 2020.
The houses are typically staffed by three to five residents who may live in the house for up to three years.
“I live here because the Jewish community is very important to me,” said resident Jessica Savitz, a theater teacher and director. “Growing up in Squirrel Hill, I always felt attached and close to the community. I wanted to give back, to engage with other young adults, so they would have a place to go for Shabbos and holidays.”
The five residents get along well, although they did not all know each other before they applied to live in Moishe House, met in a coffee shop and decided they would be happy to move in together.
“I have made some of my best friends in this house,” said resident Carly Chernomorets, who is originally from Cleveland.
Moishe House’s monthly events cover a range of interests, and appeal to a diverse crowd. In addition to Jewish celebrations, there are crafts nights, game nights, hikes, yoga classes and Jewish study programs with Rabbi Jeremy Markiz. Laser tag, a Fourth of July barbecue and birthday parties ensure there is something for everyone.
“I very recently moved to Pittsburgh and knew nobody,” said Sam Stern, an occupational therapist from New York. “I stumbled across a Moishe House event on Facebook — a Harry Potter event — so I came. Now I can say I have friends in Pittsburgh.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at