Cultivating the next generation

The Bay Area rightly celebrates its culture of innovation, stretching from the Gold Rush to Silicon Valley. The Jewish community embraces that culture, too, with many new Jewish practices and visionary Jewish organizations getting their start here.

Every innovation begins in the mind of an extraordinary individual who converts great ideas into positive action. Such a person is Adam Berman — urban farmer, Jewish educator, tireless fundraiser and nice guy. He’s also the subject of this week’s cover story.

Starting with the Adamah Fellowship, the Jewish environmental leadership program he co-founded at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut, and continuing with his 3-year-old Urban Adamah project in Berkeley, Berman has proven to be a leader taking the American Jewish community into the 21st century.

A decade ago he recognized something few others saw — a growing interest among young Jewish adults in environmental activism, food policy and Judaism — and he created a place where they could blossom, producing passionate leaders and educators. Many Adamah fellows have gone on to do impressive work in the community, some starting organizations of their own and others even entering the rabbinate.

It’s the old “teach a man to fish” dictum brought to life.

When Berman was ready to make a change a few years ago and “asked the universe what was next,” he set his sights on the Bay Area. Sure, he had some history in Berkeley — it’s where he got his MBA. But he relocated because he says he knew our local Jewish community would get what it was he was trying to do.

We get it. And so do our federations, which are increasingly funding innovative Jewish projects that, like Urban Adamah, appeal to the next generation. Our Jewish family foundations get it, too, as do our synagogues, day schools and JCCs.

Without forward-thinking leadership and the steady support of our local Jewish infrastructure, this Bay Area Jewish garden might wither. Instead, it flourishes.

In the case of Urban Adamah, that flourishing is literal. The program’s 2.2-acre Berkeley site proves that a sustainable farm in the middle of a city is not only possible but also highly desirable, even necessary. Urban Adamah grows tons of wholesome organic foodstuffs, donating a large portion of it and raising community awareness. These are Jewish values in action.

We salute Adam Berman, Urban Adamah and their efforts toward a more sustainable and just future for all.