Alumni Spotlight: Adina Allen

Adina Allen
Alternative Breaks, El Salvador, 2002
Adina Allen participated in AJWS Alternative Breaks in El Salvador in 2002. A past fellow and current Board member of Adamah: the Jewish Environmental Leadership Fellowship, she recently collaborated with AJWS on Jews in the Garden, an environmental and food justice program in the San Francisco Bay Area and assisted with the first Bay Area Community-Wide Eco Tu B'Shevat Seder. Adina is currently Assistant Editor of Tikkun magazine and will begin rabbinical school at Hebrew College this fall.

What drew you to your service program?

I did the program [while] in my freshman year of college at Tufts University. I heard about it through Hillel. I had spent some time in South America and Central America on eco-camping tours with my family, so I was excited to spend time in a village and really get to know people and then to put a Jewish context to what I was doing. I had been really involved in Jewish life in high school; I did NFTY and summer camp and went to Israel. I hadn't found an in through the Jewish community in college, so I was really looking for this service trip to provide that for me, something that I felt like I'd been missing.

Did the trip impact your Jewish identity?

I think that my in back to Judaism was connecting to the environment, the natural world, concepts of ecology and sustainability. I studied environmental studies in college and did a lot of hands-on environmental research, but there was still something missing—a context for appreciating the natural world, a language, a community and ritual. So that's what brought me back to Judaism in a new way. I just got accepted to Hebrew College in Boston, the new trans-denominational rabbinical school.

How did you become interested in environmental issues?

It came from a Jewish perspective. I spent ten years at a Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin and participated in the units that were based on the kibbutz model. We spent time living in big tents, cultivating a garden, taking care of animals, making our own meals and washing our dishes. I think I really connected to Judaism and community through that. That's what led me after college to look for something that combined community and hard work and farming and Judaism, and that's how I found the Adamah fellowship in Connecticut.

What was your experience like with Adamah?

It was absolutely amazing. It's a trans-denominational community, so people from different levels of Jewish knowledge come and learn and work together. It's a safe environment to explore your Judaism. We cleaned toilets, made beds and did housekeeping work while farming and doing Jewish learning. We were integrated into all parts of the community.

Do you have a vision of where you want to go as a rabbi with these issues in the future?

Definitely. One of my first projects I've been brainstorming about since I got accepted is how we can use the rabbinate as a model for the rest of the Jewish community. And, in that way, how I could help Hebrew College become the first green rabbinical school. I have lots of ideas: energy audits, building composting, recycling, learning, teaching, edible gardens. I'm less attracted to the strict pulpit type of role. I envision creating a synagogue/community center space where people can do Jewish text while learning and praying together and also learning how to cook, run an urban garden and be integrated in all those ways.

How do you sustain your passion for this issue in your life currently?

I don't really see the environment as one issue. Through that lens, and through Judaism and the environment, you can go in so many directions, like international development and community building. I think people are increasingly worried about their health and the environment and realizing that it's all connected, that the daily choices we make have a huge impact.

That was the impetus for me and the others who we're working with to start Jews in the Garden, a local Jewish environmental service-learning program and the community-wide Eco Tu B'Shevat Seder. People came from all parts of the Bay Area and when we asked, half the people in the room had never been to a Tu B'Shevat seder before. It was really incredible. I'm sustained through the Jewish environmental community that we've been able to create out here.