Philanthropist Dottie Bennett decided to become a Moishe House booster after she heard a resident speak about her experience at one of the residences where young adult Jews form communities for their peers.
“This young lady has all the opportunities in the world, yet she found time to be a Moishe House resident. And after talking to her I knew why,” said Bennett, a Falls Church local who sits on the Moishe House board. “She, too, wanted to make a difference and keep the door open and encourage young people to get together and celebrate the joy of Judaism.”
Bennett taught school for more than 20 years and said she is deeply involved in the issues of Jewish education and in efforts to maintain and enhance Jewish identity. Moishe House, an international nonprofit where young adults can create their ideal Jewish communal space, is one effort for the Temple Rodef Shalom member.
Bennett’s parents fled Nazi Germany. In New York, the family didn’t speak of being Jewish, she said.
“It was a very European upbringing even though we lived in New York,” she said. “I grew up in the middle of the war. I didn’t have anybody to really show me the way because talking about the war and Judaism at home wasn’t a thing we did.”
She said that, in a way, the strictness of her childhood motivated her to become a philanthropist as an adult.
“I have always wanted to make opportunities for the younger generation that either I didn’t have or weren’t available to me,” she said. “I’ve been in a remarkable position to be able to support many organizations in this community and across the country that have a mission that shares my values.”
She’s given her support to AJC, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the United Jewish Endowment Fund, Sunflower Bakery and Signature Theatre. She’s one of Moishe House’s top individual donors.
Being on the board of the Moishe House gave her a chance to help young Jews find the support that she lacked in her youth. It also connected her with like-minded individuals.
“It’s like a family,” she said. “We just want more opportunities where more young people find community, learn together, support each other and live Jewishly.”
Moishe House also gives young adults the opportunity to learn from their peers, rather than older authority figures.
“For me, Moishe House is so important because of its peer-to-peer programming,” she said. “Peer-to-peer means that I’m not going to tell you what to do because I’m much older and what interests me might not interest you.”
Bennett also loves the arts. She chairs the board of Signature Theatre in Arlington. Part of its mission is to provide educational opportunities for high school students and adults.
She got to see the impact of the program first hand one night while she was attending one of their high school performances. She was making small talk in the audience with a couple whose son was part of the production team.
“They said we wouldn’t see him on stage, but their son was learning how to do soundboard. The father said ‘You don’t know how amazing this is. Our son was a loner. But when he walked into this program he developed a community,’” she recalled.
Bennett is optimistic that the generations coming after hers can make a positive change in the world, if they have to right tools. She’s done with just talking about non-impactful things, instead she’s supporting the causes that matter.
“My hope is in the future, as complicated as that is,” she said. “I’m not going to sit around and talk about things that aren’t going to change the world. We don’t have time for that anymore.”