Program Banner Image


Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
5+ years
Target audience
College Students
Environment/Outdoor Education

Adamah: The Jewish Farming Fellowship is a three-month leadership training program for Jewish adults ages 20-32 that integrates organic agriculture, farm-to-table living, Jewish learning, community building, and spiritual practice. That means we grow vegetables, fruit, herbs, goats, flowers, eggs, and more using organic and sustainable methods and grow people by creating hands-on experiences with ecology, food systems, spiritual practice, a vibrant evolving Judaism, and intentional community.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Jewish wisdom in all its richness and diversity is woven thorough every element of the Adamah program.

Every farming day starts with a spiritual practice we call Avodat Lev, which is led by participants and, true to the style of our millenial participants, varies widely depending on who is leading. Every Adamah Fellow leads at some point during the Fellowship; some offer traditional prayer, some offer moving meditations, yoga, movement/dance, art, engaging with the outdoors in new ways. It is a communal exploration, starting each day connecting to themselves, each other and something larger than themselves. Similarly, every week culminates with Shabbat; with widely varying levels of observance among the Fellows, the Shabbat experience is bound together by common rest and contemplation after 6 days of manual labor on the farm. Many of our Fellows, including those who may have grown up in traditional contexts, tell us that this is the first time they have really felt and understood Shabbat in their lives.

Our integration of Jewish wisdom is multifaceted and incorporates every element of the whole person to engage each Fellow in the ways that will be most meaningful to them. We know that a hands-on approach to Jewish wisdom is the most meaningful for many, particularly young adults. For example, when we harvest in our fields we introduce the concept of sacrifice (Karbon), noting that Karbon shares a root with Karov (near), which leads to an exploration of physical closeness and connectedness, how using our hands brings us to closer to the ultimate meaning of our work, which was evoked in the past through animal sacrifice. We build an altar upon which we put the first fruits of each plant on the farm, then offer a shechecheyanu (see picture of first fruits altar in the attached NOFA presentation.) Similarly, we offer a festive first fruits parade for Shavuot, which tangibly actualizes the celebration of the seasons in joyous Jewish community, refreshing an ancient tradition to bring it to life for today’s young adults.

The rituals we create with the Adamah Fellows speak to them personally because they are always offered in context of today’s most pressing contemporary issues. The Tesha b’Av ritual we created this past week, for example, invited participants to explore the themes of Tesha b’Av through guided meditation, journaling, readings from Jewish and non-Jewish sources including text, poetry, ecological sources and an in-depth facilitated conversation about refugees as it relates to loss, as well as traditional Jewish litury. Every ritual we create with and for the Adamah Fellows weave the most relevant issues of our day with Jewish wisdom, building soil and souls simultaneously.

The Adamah Fellows also engage in serious text study; an example (cited in the attached article, from the New York Times) of how we approach text study, which is always rooted both in traditional Jewish text and grapples with the most modern issues relevant to our young adult population: “On a recent evening after dinner, the topic was dust. The starting point was a passage from Genesis: “Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”

The 12th-century rabbi and scholar Rashi posited that the dust of creation came from the four corners of the Earth. Did this mean that we are by nature worldly and interconnected? “There’s no one answer,” [Shamu Sadeh, the Director of the Adamah Fellowship] said. And he dispatched the Adamahniks to study essays by Barry Lopez and Rebecca Solnit on the topics of economic migration and rootedness. In sum, where do we call home?”

Adamah exists to teach “the way agriculture has imbued Jewish ritual life, the communal life, with meaning …The foundation of any religion is not about laws, or what you eat, or how you practice specific rituals,” Shamu Sadeh, Adamah Founder and Director, says. “It’s about ‘wow.’ It’s about the fundamental human experience of awe. Farming’s a great way to get back to that.”

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

The Adamah Fellowship embraces the use of Jewish wisdom in all its richness and breadth, and does not proscribe any one way or observing, practicing, believing or engaging in Jewish life. Our audience is made up of millennials from diverse backgrounds, many seeking community, meaning and something tangible to do with their hands to connect to the world and themselves. Adamah Fellows are making decisions about who they are, what they want to do with their lives, where they want to live, what their Jewish community is going to be; it is an incredibly ripe moment for young adults who are making all these decisions about the rest of their lives, and we take our responsibility to nurture them through this critical juncture very seriously.

Over the past twelve years we have deepened our understanding of millenials’ search for meaning, their desire to make things personally relevant, their commitment to social justice and authenticity as well as pluralism, and we constantly evolving in our own applications of these values to the Jewish community we are building. We practice pluralism very seriously and as a core value of the program; our participants come from all walks of life and we do serious work to prepare them to know and respect each other as they live together in community. We offer classes on pluralism, implement many community building activities, offer training in communication skills, etc., creating a safe space for creativity, and open minds and hearts. What we offer continuously evolves as the world changes; for example, our weekly pre-Shabbat mikveh used to have two groups: male and female. With heightened awareness and sensitivity about the gender spectrum, we now have three mikveh groups: cisgender male, cisgender female and gender nonconforming.

We implement ongoing evaluation in different formats (during/after class in person, informal check-ins, in written evals) to see how we are doing, and continuously make adjustments to strengthen our offerings. Very importantly, our stable and professional staff provides the backbone for the program. The leaders pray, learn together with the Fellows as an authentic community. Dr. Shamu Sadeh, the Director of the program, has offered his unique leadership over the twelve years since he founded the Fellowship, and this continuity has allowed both for stability and growth/development as the program has expanded and evolved. These authentic relationships mean we hear about the success or failure of our work quickly and can learn and adapt. It means we have close relationships and people feel comfortable taking the kinds of personal risks that allow them to deeply explore their identities, on the journey to discovering who they are and what kind of life they ultimately want to lead.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

About 350 people have participated in the transformative experience of the Adamah Fellowship. The program is very successful both at developing leadership and entrepreneurial skills, and at fostering strong Jewish engagement. This is best reflected in the fact that so many of the alumni have gone on to start new organizations or businesses, or to take on leadership roles in existing organizations, the majority of them in a Jewish context. For example, the following organizations and businesses were founded by Adamah alumni:

• The Jewish Studio Project
• Edible Eden Foodscapes
• Shoresh
• Short Winter Soups
• Wilderness Torah
• Brassica and Brine
• Aviva Allen, Kids’ Nutritionist
• UnOrthodox Celebrations
• Kol Hai: Hudson Valley Jewish Renewal
• Jewish Farm School
• Yiddish Farm
• The Gefilteria
• SNAP Gardens
• Grow and Behold
• The Acupuncture Bus
• Robariah Farms
• Ross Solar Group
• Ganei Beantown
• Tuv Ha’aretz Portland
• Kavanah Catering
• Row By Row Farm
• Wynbrandt Farms
• Migrash Farm
• Sorella Luna
• Points of Return Acupuncture
• Abundance Farm

In addition, Adamah alumni are now or have previously held significant staff roles at the following organizations (partial list):

• Romemu
• Urban Adamah
• The Edible Schoolyard
• Arava Institute
• Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
• Eden Village Camp
• JOIN for Justice
• MSU Student Organic Farm
• Coastal Roots Farm
• Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
• EcoAgriculture Partners
• Avodah
• Amir
• Bend the Arc
• Jewish Initiative for Animals
• Pie Ranch
• Sustainable Conservation
• Pearlstone Center
• And of course, at Hazon

After 11 years of transformational programs, in 2015 we conducted a survey on the long-term impact of Adamah. 155 Adamah alumni participated in the survey. We found that:

• 52% “incorporate values of keeping kosher”
• 42% “keep kosher (as defined by your understanding)”
• 44% practice “Morning ritual, prayer, shacharit, Avodat Lev, intention for the day”
• 57% “Observe Shabbat (as defined by your understanding)”
• 54% “Attend synagogue, temple, or minyan”
• 40% “Teach Jewish text connected to sustainability” when teaching or running programs
• 73% “Host Jewish rituals or gatherings for friends, family, or peers”
• 42% “Work in Jewish community to raise interest/programming in JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education)”

In response to the question “In thinking about your involvement with Judaism or Jewish life, which of the following best describe you, today?”

• Well over 50% responded that they are “Committed personally – I will continue to be involved in the future on a personal basis” or “Committed and working to involve others – I am committed personally and want to engage others, in order that they will become more strongly connected to Judaism or Jewish life.”
• Over a quarter responded that they are “Committed and working to advancing Judaism/Jewish life – I work in a leadership capacity to adapt Jewish culture and civilization to our society.”

Beyond the incredible quantitative return on investment, with close to half of the alumni working within the Jewish community to raise interest in the burgeoning JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming and Environmental Education) field and over a quarter committed to doing so in a leadership capacity, the qualitative impact on Adamah participants is deep and wide. A few examples:

“Thanks to Adamah I have learned how to more deeply appreciate sustainability values and practices through the Jewish lens, which has brought a beautiful depth and a more holistic understanding to my Jewish identity and practices.”

“My experience at Adamah influenced my career selection, first leading to employment at Pearlstone and now as a rabbinical student. I hope to help steward meaningful connection to Judaism as a rabbi, and seeing how that happened at Adamah serves as a wonderful example and inspiration of how that can be done elsewhere. “

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

Adamah has been so successful at putting Jewish wisdom into work in large part because we have a residential community. Spending 3 months together allows for all kinds of occasions/possible moments to make ritual, make meaning and apply diverse forms of Jewish wisdom authentically. An Adamahnik commemorating a yartzeit, the Holyday cycle, daily prayer, 3 meals a day, the first planting, the first harvest, the completion of the harvest, etc. all offer unique opportunities that we are uniquely able to take advantage of as we build a community rooted both in Jewish wisdom and engagement with the world. The opportunity for a communal Shabbat experience weekly for three months is incredibly impactful.

We know our millennial audience well; from them, we know that Jewish wisdom must be authentic to be meaningful and that millennials need to feel the authenticity and seriousness with which content is addressed, and that we must shift and change as the population evolves. It is clear to us as we encourage grappling with Jewish wisdom in all its forms that we must adapt to engage with relevance; pluralism and personal relevance are key to this population and a creative, collaborative process of designing their experience is critical to their authentic engagement.

We balance Keva and Kavvanah in the compost pile (browns and greens) and in community; Adamah certainly offers tachlis meetings, hard skills training and runs on time (keva), and we also share our feelings and open our hearts in prayer together (kavvanah). This balance speaks directly to this generation.

We have also learned that the sense of awe/wonder that is cultivated by growing with your own hands and the sense of simcha/joy in doing hard work within a community context is often personally transformational. The values both of hard work and of Shabbat, or rest, is key to finding deeper meaning; the Fellows repeatedly tell us that Shabbat “really means something here.” We know that Jewish wisdom cannot be just an intellectual process if it is to be real and have long-lasting impact: song, niggun, physical ritual, composting, sitting around a campfire, admiring a sunrise or sunset, get to the guts in a way that text study cannot. Feeling the wisdom in your body through engaging with the earth as well as using ancient ritual tools is key to tapping into the awe that allows for deep transformation. Finally, we have learned through the years that with our population, we must grapple with the big questions they are grappling with in a Jewish context to be taken seriously. Ultimately the Adamah program is not about farming; it is about lech lecha – the journey to finding yourself in the world – and the core questions our Fellows are asking are more universal than parochial. Jewish wisdom gives us the tools and inspiration to explore the universal issues that all young adults are facing today, within Jewish community.