Award to give non-Jewish Iowa native a taste of Israel

Update: Since this story appeared, Adam Strater has since converted to Judaism and is now teen coordinator at IKAR in Los Angeles. He is seeking rabbinic ordination.

Adam Strater just graduated from the Graduate Theological Union’s Jewish Studies Center in Berkeley, and recently won this year’s Haas/Koshland Memorial Award, which will fund a year of study in Israel.

Not bad for someone raised a devout Methodist in Iowa.

Strater, 25, looks forward to delving into ancient and modern Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He’s already got a year of Hebrew language classes under his belt, and plans on attending ulpan once he arrives in Israel later this month.

Adam Strater

Winning the Haas/Koshland award allows Strater to fulfill a dream of studying in Israel. He didn’t think he, as a non-Jew, had a chance of winning, but his academic advisers at GTU assured him it was no impediment.

“People should not feel intimidated to apply for a grant like Haas/Koshland,” he says. “They are very willing to listen to your story. I’m not Jewish, and they took a chance on me.”

The Des Moines native grew up in a conservative Methodist home, and knew few Jews as a youth. But he lost interest in Christianity, instead becoming deeply interested in Judaism while an undergraduate.

“The thing I like about Judaism is it’s such a scholarly religion,” Strater says. “The rabbis continually look at it, challenge themselves and challenge others. In the Talmud they never say what you have to believe to be Jewish. With Judaism you’re encouraged to challenge your own beliefs in a scholarly way, and at the same time look into your faith.”

Upon his return from Israel a year from now, Strater hopes to defend his master’s thesis (it has to do with the Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation and what he calls its “dependence on Jewish tradition”). He ultimately hopes to become a university professor.

As for converting to Judaism, he says he still holds Christianity at “arm’s length,” but as an agnostic, he adds that he is not ready to become a Jew.

Meanwhile, Strater is ready to live the life of an Israeli, beginning June 22. He’s still riding high from the phone call he received from the Haas/Koshland selection committee informing him he had won.

“I had to put the phone on mute because I was screaming and jumping up and down,” he says. “I am incredibly excited.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.