Climate issues are more urgent than ever. Thus, it’s extremely important that there are climate heroes who are paving the way for a sustainable future. We can learn from each of them.
One such hero is Jakir Manela, CEO of Adamah — the largest Jewish environmental organization in North America. Jakir oversees Adamah’s work and mission, which is to cultivate vibrant Jewish life in deep connection with the Earth, catalyzing culture change and systemic change through Jewish Environmental Education, Immersive Retreats, and Climate Action.
Jakir trained as a Teva educator in 2004, established Kayam Farm at Pearlstone in 2006, and served as the Executive Director of Pearlstone and as a Hazon board member from 2012-2021. In 2022, he became the CEO of Hazon-Pearlstone, leading the merger into Adamah. Like so many, he is deeply inspired by Adamah’s amazing team and holy work happening every day. I got a chance to ask Jakir about his impactful work:
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: How did you get interested in working on climate issues?
Jakir Manela: At the University of Wisconsin, I founded a student group for Jewish students at Hillel who were interested in fusing their Jewish identity and their environmental leadership. I was the first undergraduate college student on the national board of Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), providing me with an opportunity to network with adults who were devoting their lives to this work. I read The End of Nature by Bill McKibbon and it really sparked my interest in these issues.
I had great mentors and teachers at the University of Wisconsin, including Professor Cal Dewitt, who taught a course on environmental science that for me was life changing.
Is this connected to your Jewish involvement and identity? If so, in what way?
For me, as a grandson of Holocaust survivors, everything about the choices I make in my life are informed by that legacy. I see the great resilience of our people and I’m inspired to build a sustainable world that is worthy of my family’s legacy and a world I’m proud to hand down to my children and future generations- for me that is the essence of being Jewish.
What have been some of your biggest successes?
Successfully implementing the merger between Hazon and Pearlstone – the two leading Jewish sustainability organizations in North America. This was a daunting and exciting opportunity and I am really happy to say that the merger, and now Adamah, are going really well. Our company cultures are blending smoothly, we are doing great work, and we are hiring many new staff which is great as we reemerge from Covid.
Recruitment and convening of Adamah’s Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition: getting CEOs on the major Jewish communal organizations to really move on climate action.
What are your thoughts on Israel?
We believe that in order to build a more sustainable future rooted in Jewish wisdom, we need to work on our partnership with Israel. This embodies our commitment to Jewish peoplehood and planethood, and was our belief before October 7… and is needed now more than ever.
Beyond the marches, the speeches, and the statements, Adamah continues to build strong ties between American Jewish and Israeli environmentalists and peacebuilders.
Pearlstone, Adamah’s headquarters, is the proud host site of the only Jewish environmental shaliach (year-round Israeli Jewish educator) in North America. For almost ten years, we have hosted Israeli educators on our staff who infuse Israel connection into everything we do, with gratitude to our partners at The Associated and The Jewish Agency for Israel. We hope to replicate this shlichut in other Community Impact Hubs in the years ahead, bringing more Israelis into authentic human relationships with our staff and participants all across the country.
Pearlstone hosted our first annual Israeli Families Weekend in November, which quickly sold out in just four days. We aim to host more respite retreats at Isabella Freedman in the months ahead for Israelis, college students, and rabbis. There is a deep visceral need right now for loving Jewish communal space, and we are committed to meeting this need.
We are working with the USDA, Israeli Consulate, Israeli food and agriculture organizations, and others regarding the emerging food security crisis on Israeli farms, where thousands of volunteers are needed in the months ahead. We are in touch with our staff, alumni, friends, and partners in Israel to assist in mobilizing a response to this critical challenge.
Building on Hazon’s 20+ years of running immersive programs and bike rides in Israel, Adamah is proud to continue supporting the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and their groundbreaking work in peacebuilding through environmental cooperation. Located at Kibbutz Keturah in the Arava Desert, the institute is dedicated to preparing the future leaders of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and around the world to cooperatively solve the regional and global challenges of our time.
Hakhel, the Jewish Intentional Community Network powered by Adamah and inspired by the Israeli intentional communities’ movement, grows and supports peer-led Jewish communities all across the Jewish Diaspora. These budding communities learn from each other and from Israel’s communitarian culture. It was that culture which was so vividly on display over the past 6+ months of pro-democracy protests all over the country, and now that same movement has immediately, powerfully pivoted to crisis response during this war.
Can you tell us about something that you find exciting about what you are doing and where and how others can help?
One way that organizations can help is by joining the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition, which is a group of Jewish organizations – from Federations, to major organizations, to synagogues – that have committed to taking climate action. Members of the Coalition are eligible to apply for our Climate Action Fund.
Adamah on Campus, which is close to my heart because that’s really where I started – as a student activist. We have expanded to 50+ campus kvutzot and are always looking to get on more campuses. Young people are integral to the success of the climate movement and the health of the planet.
High schoolers can start a Jewish Youth Climate Movement chapter to work with their peers to take climate action.
What is your advice for other people who are just getting their start on climate issues?
Working on climate issues can take a toll: emotionally, spiritually, and can even be physically exhausting as well. It’s important to have a restorative practice to find the energy and stamina to keep chipping away at such a big problem.
Where should folks begin? We offer someone for everyone at Adamah!
- Teens: Jewish Youth Climate Movement
- College students: Adamah on Campus
- Non-Profit orgs: Join the Jewish Climate Leadership Coalition
- Teachers/Parents: Teva program for Jewish Day School students
- Our retreat centers at Pearlstone in Maryland and Isabella Freedman in the Berkshires are a great place to learn about and experience all that Adamah has to offer. From immersive holiday retreats, to farm education, our campuses offer people an opportunity to experience sustainable living rooting in Jewish wisdom.