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Reflections on 12 Years of the Adamah Fellowship

When Adam Berman and I started the Adamah Fellowship in 2003, we had a handful of young people, a garden no bigger than the average suburban backyard, and an assortment of classes, programs and half-formed ideas we put together from our years at Teva and Camp Tawonga, guiding wilderness trips, and teaching community college. There were no goats, no pickles, no Adamah house and no final presentations called “Speak your truth.” The Jewish Food Movement did not yet exist, and there was essentially one destination – Isabella Freedman – for young Jews who wanted to combine their passion for Judaism and environmentalism.

Fast forward 12 years: Our 10-acre farm production goals are carefully planned, our morning prayer services are more carefully rooted in the tradition, our new pickle labels are made of a low-impact calcium paper, our orchards are bearing fruit, and the ways we speak about pluralistic community are more nuanced. We have a CSA and we donate food. We have moved out of the risky floodplain that was the original sadeh, and built the resilient and diverse Kaplan Family Farm on Beebe Hill. Our farm and all our products are certified organic. The number of JOFFEE programs we run for visiting synagogues and even weddings is exploding.

We have an expansive network of alumni who are rabbis, food policy experts, farmers, community organizers, Jewish educators, food business owners, and nutritionists. Many have started families, built organizations and community together from Toronto to Oakland. Many return to this community to teach the new generation of fellows about shechitah, community building, and Jewish prayer. Yes, the worlds in which we work have grown exponentially, and yes, Adamah has played a central role in seeding that growth. Yet the foundation of our work has not changed.

Our experience with over 300 twenty-somethings has done nothing but confirmed our initial intuition about what young Jews need: direct experiences of natural wonder, a supportive community, and the chance to experiment with identity, ritual, and the land. Yes, we should delve into our tradition’s paradoxical views on food, farming, and the natural world, and we should understand the dynamics of climate change – but if we do not provide the space for people to stand breathless at the mountaintop, or sit humbly with a freshly dug carrot, we have done our students and our tradition an injustice.

This morning, like most mornings over the past 12 years, Adamah gathered in the early light for Shacharit: Avodat HaLev, our morning prayer service. As the mist rose off of the lake, we sang Modeh Ani and shared what we were grateful for. Then we headed off to milk the goats and take out the compost. Some things do not need to change. Some things are meant to endure.