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he Next Dor house hosted a benefit event on Saturday called "Hops for Haiti"

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 7, 2010 -  The Next Dor house hosted a benefit event on Saturday called “Hops for Haiti” that raised more than $600 for that country's earthquake victims, according to the group’s social coordinator, Yoni Sarason. Upwards of 60 people paid to enter the Central West End house, where beer that was donated or sold at reduced pricing awaited them.

Sarason said all of the proceeds will be given to the American Jewish World Service’s Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund, which focuses on helping populations in the crisis zone that haven’t already been targeted for massive relief, including poor and rural areas.

Yoni Sarason is living in post-college paradise.

He’ll soon have a roommate in a recently updated three-story-plus-basement house in the Central West End. It’s a place that’s filled with entertainment options – two big-screen TVs, "The Beatles: Rock Band" set up in the living room, a real drum set and band practice space in the basement.

The kicker: He doesn’t pay rent.

But this is no ordinary bachelor pad. For one, it’s owned by a synagogue, the next door neighbor Central Reform Congregation. And while the front door is technically locked, there’s an open door policy for young Jewish St. Louisans who want to drop by to play video games, host events, study or eat a meal.

This is the physical home of “Next Dor,” whose St. Louis branch is awaiting its nonprofit status. The purpose is to help bring together the area's young generation of Jews -- specifically those 21 to their mid-30s. (Dor in Hebrew means “generation.”) Groups and individuals are invited to use the house's makeshift reading room, game room, as well as its spacious dining room that can host Shabbat dinners. The space is available for free.

“There are so many more Jewish young adults in St. Louis than people expect,” Sarason said. “I want to see this become a drop-in place that’s accessible to people.”

Sarason, 25, a Cincinnati native, came to St. Louis as an undergrad at Washington University and hasn’t left. He said that after college it became more challenging to meet people. So he and his former roommate, Ross Silverman, several years ago started hosting regular social events in their apartment. They began drawing 30-plus people to dinners and quickly outgrew that space.

Their rental eventually became home to Moishe House, a program with locations across the country that provides subsidized housing for young Jewish people who plan regular events like Shabbat dinners and trips to cultural landmarks. That house has since moved, and Silverman still lives in it with two roommates. 

Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation said she liked what was happening at the house so much that she wanted to help create another place for young people to congregate. At a conference she was introduced to Synagogue 3000, the creator of the Next Dor program. She thought the century-old house that CRC owned would be a fitting location for a hub.

Talve approached Sarason with the idea, and “Yoni liked it and ran with it,” Talve said. Synagogue 3000 awarded the temple with $40,000 in start-up funds, used mostly to rehab the house. The program is also running on other donations.

Though the house is still owned by CRC, Next Dor is not affiliated with the synagogue. (Though for the time being, CRC remains the group’s fiscal agent.) Talve said as far as she knows St. Louis is the only city that actually has a physical house for its Next Dor program.

Sarason said he agrees with Talve that Next Dor is expanding on what Moishe House does, rather than competing with it. "We're more of a venue than a programming organization," Sarason said.

Sarason is on the Next Dor staff and helps coordinate what type of events will be held at the house. Beyond the Shabbat dinners and group meetings, he said he'd like to see artists use the house. He's considering making part of the basement into an art gallery.

Already since the official opening on Nov. 10, Sarason has brought in a speaker for local law school students, and hosted a delegation from a rabbinical association.

Only an uber-social person could handle the constant stream of visitors coming and going, and Benj Drazen, a Next Dor board member, said Sarason is well-suited to handle the action. But Sarason admits that it's sometimes a lot to handle.

"I knew my privacy would take a nose dive," he said. "There are times when I'll want to go to bed or go out somewhere, but overall this is something I'm putting everything in to."

What's Talve's motivation? For one, she sees the house as an incubator. The people using it could become the next generation of synagogue members, whether it's at her congregation or another.

She said she's glad to be able to provide a central meeting place, as well. "This next generation, they have all this technology and they stay connected through cyberspace, but there’s a yearning for more face-to-face connection,” she said. “They don’t just want to connect at bars –- they are looking for meaningful experiences like Friday night dinners and study groups.”

And finally, there's the mission of helping to persuade young people to stay in St. Louis in their 20s and early 30s. Sarason said he wants to show people what the city can offer, help develop a community and connect people -- though he stresses that he's not a matchmaker.  

Added Talve: “What’s going to keep our kids here? Is this a creative enough idea to keep young people from leaving?"

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