Boston house as ‘radical Chabad

Margie Klein, right, coordinator of Boston´s Kavod Jewish Social Justice House, shares ideas with a representative from the Muslim American Society at an interfaith evening. ()

Margie Klein, right, coordinator of Boston´s Kavod Jewish Social Justice House, shares ideas with a representative from the Muslim American Society at an interfaith evening. ()

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 29 (JTA) — Boston’s Kavod Jewish Social Justice House is quite different from the other Moishe Houses. It was founded last fall by Margie Klein, a rabbinical student at Boston’s trans-denominational Hebrew College, co-founder of the activist youth community Jews in the Woods and former head of Project Democracy, a nonprofit that mobilized college students to vote in the 2004 election. Klein’s religious and political interests set the tone at Kavod House, where residents combine social action with an understanding of the Jewish roots of their political commitments. Klein was inspired by Chabad’s successful outreach to young, unaffiliated Jews. “As a grassroots organizer, I traveled around the world. Everywhere I went, Chabad provided an address for my Jewish life, a warm family opening its doors, with good Jewish food on the table,” she says. But as an “egalitarian Jew,” she says, she couldn’t make her home in the Lubavitch community. So she took their model and combined it with her own progressive politics and egalitarian practice, experimenting first with a now-defunct house in Washington, then founding the Kavod House in Boston. The impetus came right after the 2004 presidential election, when she sat up all night with some other friends equally despondent over the Democratic Party’s defeat. “How could we revitalize the Jewish community for our generation? How could we make our generation understand it’s our responsibility to create a politics we can believe in?” she asks. “We thought, let’s use the model of Chabad, not to get people to a certain observance level but to create a Judaism that is fully engaged in repairing the world.” Early funding for the Boston house came from the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel alumni fund and the Jewish Life Network. Joining the Moishe House network in June strengthened programming, as has the house’s close relationship with Hebrew College. Rabbinical students came over at Tu B’Shevat to teach young Jews how to do text study on environmental topics. The house also sponsored a blind tasting of tap and bottled water in Harvard Square to encourage people to drink free, local water. That stunt landed them on NBC’s “Today Show,” where Klein says “we emphasized we were a religious group doing this out of moral conviction.” Kavod House has about 100 regulars and more than 250 frequent visitors. As more people began coming to activities, Klein has broadened her view of what the house can provide. “People come for all reasons,” she admits. “Some just want a Jewish home. Some want to explore their spiritual practice.” They now offer cooking classes and “poetry as spiritual practice,” taught by a national poetry slam champion who happens to be Jewish. The four residents have become facilitators, mentoring sub-groups that are creating a house minyan, a social action-oriented beit midrash, or Torah study group, and an organizing arm that can mobilize crowds of young people for particular causes. Three of the four residents are Sabbath-observant, and to satisfy their various dietary needs the house maintains three sets of dishes: one vegetarian-organic, one kosher vegetarian, and one for anything else. They call the system “kosher possible,” and view it as a way for people to live together without compromising their values. As the Moishe Houses grow and mature, Klein says, they’re trying to figure out together what it means to build Jewish identity for their generation. “In some ways we’re creating a new Judaism. In another way, it’s always been there,” she muses.

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