February 27, 2014
This story comes to us from Moishe House, an organization that trains, supports and sponsors young Jewish leaders as they create vibrant home-based communities for themselves and their peers.
Avi Dell studied psychology at the University of Haifa in Israel, where he also volunteered for the Israeli military and served in the Nahal infantry brigade. After his time in Israel he returned to Pittsburgh where he served as youth director for Congregation Beth Shalom. A founding member of the Moishe House Chicago-Southport, you can often find him writing and performing with his band AyOH.
In the spring of 2013 I was invited to a Moishe House Retreat by one of my oldest friends Yoni Steinberg. The weekend at the beautiful Camp Bieber in Wisconsin was filled with spirituality, tfillot, introspection and fun. I was also fortunate to connect with Matt Weiner and Jordan Fruchtman, two leaders in the organization.
Fast forward 6 months. I found myself moving out of my apartment and in need of a place to live. As if destiny struck, Jordan called me and expressed the community's desire for a new Moishe House in Chicago and inquired if I would be interested in spear-heading a new house. Within 30 minutes of the call I had my mind set on making it happen.
I was excited at the prospect of creating a Jewish community to my specifications, to build a unique existence that catered to people in my age range rooted in modern Zionism and Yiddishkeit. I wanted to create a safe place to ask questions and to challenge religious formalities, to start an accepting form of Judaism that does not prescribe to rigid denominational platforms. I wanted a place of acceptance, something alternative to the status quo that I did not connect with in Chicago.
Matt Weiner followed up offering support and guidance. Conveniently, Yoni had recently moved to Chicago and served as ambassador to the Moishe mission. I looked to Yoni as an invaluable guide given his past experience founding the Pittsburgh Moishe House.
After a little coercion, I had succeeded in bringing Yoni on board to start his second Moishe House. Through a mutual friend, and divine intervention, Linor Vaknin, the daughter of an Israeli family and child of Iowa, came on the scene and thus we had our trio to complete the house. Linor added the yin to our yang, and shared common interests with both Yoni and me while offering a unique perspective of her own.
In less than 10 days we were up and running. With every obstacle that comes with finding a place, breaking our current leases or scheduling our movers, I was further convinced that the three of us would make an exceptional team, empowered and destined to create and foster our own ideal Jewish community.
In what felt like a crucial last minute play, we found the perfect apartment and signed the lease, gathered our belongings from the various corners of Chicago and settled down in North Southport in the midst of Lakeview, Chicago, a place we now fondly think of as our home.
I wake up every day feeling blessed to have found myself in such a wonderfully Jewish existence. In our brief four months here we've had hundreds of guests and over 20 events. We've already done everything from making sushi, to dancing at concerts, hosting several Shabbat meals and teaching yoga--it's been a wonderful four months. We can't wait for more!
The Schusterman Philanthropic Network is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.