Inspired by the highly-regarded national network of 50 Moishe Houses, the "jU House" is a UChicago student apartment whose three residents organize at least four Jewish programs for their peers each month, all of which take place in the apartment.
The driving force behind the jU House is the desire to empower undergraduates to develop their own ways of living Jewish lives, in their own homes. In a recent blog post, jU House resident Dory Fox observes that Jewish life on campus “tends to be pre-packaged and pre-determined, in a way that seems eerily little like Jewish life outside of the university.” Because traditional Jewish programming on many college campuses is often designed and executed by staff, Dory fears that “conventional programming…is not teaching us how to be self-reliant, fully functional Jewish adults.”
That’s where the jU House steps in.
The jU House is a vehicle for students to experiment with Jewish experiences and redefine their Jewish identities, developing a sense of the relevance of Jewish ideas and practices to their lives as young adults, both during college and after. The three jU House residents, Dory, Eliza, and Kirsten, have committed countless hours to planning events in their home that span a wide variety of interests and Jewish topics, that flow from student needs, and that feel welcoming to their peers.
The jU House has successfully established recurring programs such as Thursday night yoga classes, taught by two UChicago students who are certified yoga instructors. Their sessions are centered on a theme relating to Judaism, followed by a discussion. For example, the most recent session addressed the idea of “owning your space,” a theme inspired by Abraham’s insistence on owning Sarah’s tomb. The jU House also hosts more traditional Jewish activities, such as twice-a-month traditional egalitarian Friday night services.
In addition to recurring events, the jU House hosts periodic forums on Jewish topics. The first of these events examined the idea of “Jewish Hair” through cultural, political, historical, and gender lenses. The next in this series, timed to coincide with Thanksgiving, is entitled “Colonial Jews” and will address questions ranging from the early immigration of Jews to the United States to whether or not Christopher Columbus himself was Jewish.
The jU House is an especially important part of jU’s program because it is becoming a community for Jews on campus who are otherwise disengaged or dissatisfied with Jewish life at UChicago. The jU House gives these students a chance to form a community of their own that resonates with their needs and interests, and it empowers them to build something that can compel others.
As Dory puts it, “[W]e’re working to create a bridge – for other students, as well as for ourselves – between the insular structured world of the university, and the big-wide-world. Our hope is that our programs will help students conceive of how they can be Jewish, and how they want to be Jewish, now and in the years after graduation.”