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Urban Adamah Fellowship

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

The Urban Adamah Fellowship is a three-month residential leadership training program for young adults from around the country and the world that integrates applied Jewish wisdom with sustainable agriculture and social justice training. Fellows spend their time living, learning and working on a two-acre urban farm in West Berkeley, CA. During the fellowship, they explore and try-on Jewish wisdom in ways that bring them greater depth, meaning and joy. They leave with the inspiration and the tools to make Judaism relevant and alive in their own lives and for those around them.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

The core of our Jewish curriculum for the fellows includes the following practices and concepts: Shabbat; Tefilah (Daily Prayer/Practice); Brachot (Blessings); Kashrut (Ethical Consumption); Peah (sharing farm produce with neighbors in need), Shmitah (The Sabbatical Year), Chaggim (The Holidays); and Tzedakkah (Charity/Justice).

The following statement from one of our current fellows, Atay Mor, provides an example of how we approach the application of Jewish prayer traditions and how it will be applied in another context:

My name is Atay Mor. I am from Israel.

In two weeks I will finish the summer Urban Adamah Fellowship here in Berkeley. It has been an extraordinary summer. I want to share with you a bit about it.

I came to this fellowship because I work for an organization called Bina in Israel. Bina is a social justice and Jewish learning organization that works mostly with secular Israelis.

Last year, the organization was given a large piece of land in Tel Aviv, which it plans to turn into a farm and community center. I was hired to develop a fellowship program for young adults that integrates Jewish learning and living with agriculture and ecological study, housed on this land.

I came to Urban Adamah to learn its approach, and to take back with me elements of the program I can apply in Israel. In short, the program has exceeded my highest expectations and there is much of it that I hope to replicate in Israel.

In particular, I have been impressed by Urban Adamah’s approach to Jewish learning and Jewish wisdom. The program is deeply grounded in Jewish rhythms, values and practice and its pedagogical approach is brilliant. The essential practice is: reflect personally on the concept/your past experience, learn the wisdom, reflect again, re-imagine how to apply it in your life, concretize that imagining, practice it, lead it, own it. We have followed this approach for many aspects of Jewish learning but the most impactful has been our work around Shabbat, Prayer and Blessing.

I would like to say a few words about prayer. The fellows meet every morning at Urban Adamah for a practice called Avodat Lev – service of the heart. It’s purpose is to connect us to our own hearts, our bodies, each-other, and to That which connects us all. That is, its goal is the goal of a traditional shacharit service. And yet, the form and shape of what we do, while containing the bones of a traditional service, is almost entirely determined by the participants in the program, who end up leading the service (as opposed to staff members) with increasing regularly as the season unfolds. We integrate yoga, poetry, art, personal stories, songs etc. As a result, the practice we do together is both deeply inspired by the ideas/themes contained in the traditional morning service, and is profoundly relevant to the real-work interests and passions of those in our community. I can’t imagine a better way to apply an ancient practice in the modern world.

I am looking forward to taking Avodat Lev and so many other aspects of the program back to Israel.

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

We work at the intersection of four practices that we believe can inform, support, and strengthen the application of Jewish wisdom to daily life:
• Jewish tradition (a wide range of practices and concepts)
• Sustainable agriculture (about which Judaism has some profound ideas and practices to contribute),
• Mindfulness (we utilize Jewish practices that support mindfulness, and also integrate non-Jewish mindfulness practices into traditional Jewish practices in a manner that deepens and enriches fellows’ experience of Jewish tradition), and
• Social action (a core Jewish concept and practice).
We furthermore work in four core dimensions of human experience as we seek to integrate and work with the above-mentioned practices:

1) Hands | Physical: We engage the body. We put our hands in the soil and use all five senses. We practice yoga, qi gong, and other mindfulness practices that help participants attune to their physical experience. We practice rituals that have a strong embodied dimension, such as mikveh, havdallah, and the integration of movement into prayer. We play games, sing songs and make music, grow and cook food, make crafts, and serve others. When we do this, we experience greater joy, creativity, connection to the many natural wonders around us, and develop a sense of communal identity.

2) Heart | Emotional: We engage feelings and emotions. We create safe spaces for people to share, to shine, and to expand their personal capacity. We create opportunities for people to have conversations about what’s real for them and what they hope for. We model socio-emotional learning and support participants to communicate honestly and effectively. We learn to speak in ways that support us in noticing our judgments, taking responsibility for our feelings, identifying our needs, and making specific action oriented requests. As we study Jewish texts and take on Jewish practices, we provide the emotional space fellows need in order to integrate those ideas and actions into the realm of human experience that most immediately and powerfully drives our choices.

3) Head | Intellectual: We think seriously and learn together about a range of social and environmental issues that challenge society. In each of these areas we seek to draw from Jewish wisdom to inform our curriculum. Recognizing that the intellectual realm is one that is already very well developed in fellows and that they are seeking to explore other modes of being, we are quite disciplined about not getting into theoretical discussion and argument. We are focused on the application of knowledge to personal and collective practice as a community.

4) Community: We learn and work in community. Fellows live, learn, and work together. Jewish ideas and practices are explored and experimented with as individuals within a community, and as a community. We foster a group context that supports free exploration and reinforces that there are many ways to think, live, and practice Jewishly.

As we design programs to explore the four practices (Jewish tradition, sustainable agriculture, mindfulness and social action) in the four dimensions (hands, heart, head, community), we follow a few general guidelines to make Jewish wisdom accessible:
• We start where our students are, literally, by asking them to share about their prior experience with practices and concepts before teaching them.
• All texts are translated and transliterated into modern English.
• We avoid theological language as much as possible recognizing the vast majority of our fellows come from a secular perspective.
• We focus on practices rather than concepts.
• We ask: Is this a practice/concept that one or more staff members who are teaching the students finds personally meaningful and useful (as opposed to simply intellectually stimulating)? If the answer is “no”, we move on.
• We create ample space for fellows throughout the fellowship to individually explore and dialogue as a group about how they are experiencing the practices we encourage and how they are thinking about the concepts we teach.
• Students are invited to imagine how they might apply the concepts to their lives in way that would bring greater depth, connection, meaning and/or joy. Students spend some time writing/drawing/sharing more specifically about how they imagine their own personal application of the practice/concept in their lives.
• We set up opportunities for the students to own and lead the practice/concept during the their time in the fellowship.


How does this work for the concept/practice of Shabbat?

During the first week of the fellowship, the fellow’s participate in a text study/discussion/personal exploration about Shabbat. (See Shabbat class curriculum in Supporting Documents). Importantly, the class follows most of the guidelines shared above. For our first Shabbat together, staff members primarily lead the Friday night service and the dinner/evening program, but invite to fellows to share something on specific themes of Kabbalat Shabbat during the service. For our second Shabbat together, the fellows are invited to the farm for our community Kabbalat Shabbat experience – 150 people on the farm. On this night, they are invited to take an even deeper leadership role in various aspects: leading Kiddush, motzie or even just greeting guests. On the third Shabbat of their fellowship, they create, entirely on their own but with the help of staff, a Kabbalat Shabbat experience at their home for themselves and their friends. This is the culmination of a three-week process of Shabbat education and experience that culminates in ownership of the practice. And then they have eight more Shabbatot to create, explore and deepen their relationship to and practice of Shabbat.

Much of the success of our pedagogy is the result of the three months that we have together with the fellows. It allows the creation of a culture that supports the development of their Jewish practice.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

Across the board, and quite consistently, our fellows tell us the Jewish learning component has a profound – often transformative – impact on their relationship to Jewish tradition and community. They feel more interested in, inspired by, connected to, and grateful for Jewish tradition and community. We conduct extensive surveys of our fellows’ experience of the fellowship and ask them specifically about their experience of Jewish learning and living during their time with us. Please see the supporting document that contains excerpts from fellows’ final evaluation of the program.
In addition, in 2014, a 3rd party comprehensive evaluation led by the Jim Joseph foundation concluded the following about the more than 65 Urban Adamah Fellow alumni who completed the survey:
• 83% felt disengaged from or disconnected from Jewish life during their adulthood;
• 59% now considered themselves to be a leader in their Jewish communities (at least one year after completing the fellowship); and
• 96% stated that Urban Adamah significantly influenced their current Jewish involvement.

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

Some things we think we’ve learned:
• Works the best when the teachers have applied it in their own lives
• Don’t have an agenda that involves application of the principle/concept in any particular way
• Share broad possible interpretations
• Make sure there’s ample time for individual reflection and sharing
• It is as much about creating space to imagine together/discuss as it is about giving over
• Don’t assume students are as positively inclined to the principle/concept as you, the teacher are. In fact, assume the opposite.
• Remember your students have bodies and hearts as well as heads. Sing. Connect. Laugh