Monday, March 21, 2011

Adamah v'Adam Corps: Bridging Communities, Building Justice

I am now deep into my semester in southern Israel, studying environmental peace-building. Here, diverse students come together around a common commitment to environment and justice: Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and internationals. The core of the program is a required Peace-building and Evironmental Leadership Seminar, meeting an average of 5-6 hours/week. As I finish my first month at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, I am excited to formalize plans that will turn my education abroad into action at home.

As I was getting ready to leave Oberlin this past December, I did not realize that I was going to be packing the seed of entrepreneurial aspirations in my bag as well. When I return to America in June, I will begin to build the Adamah v’Adam Corps (Hebrew for Earth and Humanity Corps). The A.A.C. is a new Jewish and interfaith service corps that will organize volunteer opportunities for youth to serve in Appalachia. On my last day at college this past winter, my mentor and adoptive “Oberlin-mom,” Beth, handed me a grant application to turn in before I left America. With help from her and others, I have secured generous seed-funding from the Davis Projects for Peace, and look forward to putting my entrepreneurial yearnings to good use.

The Appalachia region has a rich cultural heritage, sustained amidst political and ecological challenges. The long coal mining history has inspired its own music, novels, poetry, films and more. Recently, a shift toward mechanization and mountaintop removal mining (MTR) has decreased the number of jobs available while increasing the local ecological impact of mining operations. Coal is a powerful industry which offers some employment, but the region remains one of the most impoverished in America. Furthermore, coal poses problems of environmental justice at each stage of its lifecycle: from the communities where it is mined, to the plants where it is burned, to the carbon emissions that it contributes to the greenhouse effect. These dueling economic and environmental forces divide communities of the region, calling for a renewed dedication to peace-making and direct aid.

The complexity of the challenges facing Appalachia became clear to me when I facilitated an alternative break program there this past October. Our group was the first delegation of Oberlin volunteers to work with Heritage Ministries of Lynch, Kentucky; we distributed food, weatherized homes, painted a house, installed siding, and helped to build a roof. Students and community members found deep satisfaction in working across cultural differences, energizing everyone’s dedication to the work at hand. Students also gained a deeper understanding of the connections amongst environmental and economic conditions that divide the community, coming to see direct material aid as a promotion of peace and fellowship.

The A.A.C. has a three-part mission that aims to create deep impacts for both participants and the communities they visit: offering material assistance, fostering pluralism, and teaching ecological awareness. This mission is a response to the challenges identified by Heritage Ministries, including aging infrastructure, few jobs, inadequate health care, and an absence of government assistance. While these difficulties demand long term, system-level solutions, the director of Heritage Ministries explains that direct service is absolutely necessary to immediately relieve stress.

With seed-funding this summer, I will continue to build the foundation for future volunteer service trips, bringing more participants to the Appalachia region. Immediately after landing in Boston in late June, I will make a four-day trip to Appalachia for preliminary planning. Through mid-July, I will meet with leaders and teachers of Jewish and interfaith communities in the northeast, building connections with potential participant organizers (e.g. high school principals, Rabbis, ministers, etc.) and hiring experts for assistance in writing a curriculum for later service trips. When I return to Appalachia for four weeks, I will volunteer with at least four organizations (identified with assistance from Heritage Ministries and other partners in Kentucky and West Virginia), in order to establish lasting partnerships.

I will be one of one hundred students/teams executing Projects for Peace across the planet, and am designing the A.A.C. as a local response to the world-wide challenges of our time. In an era of global climate change, geographical and temporal distance masks the impact of energy use and consumer decisions on not only the environment, but also the human beings who occupy it. Bridging the physical distance between host and participant communities fosters compassion, helping individuals to navigate a complex world where daily choices have deep ethical implications. As climate change and rising seas threaten global stability, the A.A.C. seeks to train civic leaders who engage with diverse communities to help bring about a more compassionate world. Economic conditions in Appalachia call for a humanitarian response, and the region’s ecology teaches global environmental lessons.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Circuits, Jogs, Yoga, Soccer, Volleyball: Energy

I am a proud member of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies Sports Committee, an overly-beaurocratic name for one of the most powerful sources of my energy here. In between classes and common meals, a group of avid outdoorsie athletes has developed a strong community. Last Thursday afternoon, we transformed the small quad into a gym, with Palestinians, Isralis, and Americans lifting stones and doing dips on benches. Then, before dinner, we practiced an hour of Yoga as the sun went down.

In two weeks, we are all piling on to a Public "Egged" Bus, and heading North to Jerusalem for the city's first Marathon. None of us are actually running the whole thing; we are training for the 10k (and couple of folks for the 21k) gives us excuses to run together in the evenings. When we hit the streets, we'll be jogging through the Jaffa Gate, past the Kinesset, and finishing next to the supreme court.

Life at AIES is full of energy and connections that feed a harmony of the mind, body, and soul. We study regional water management during the daytime and play barefoot soccer at night.

The annual regional soccer tournament began last night, which is a BIG deal around here. It had been hyped for weeks - even before I arrived on campus. Our team, with professors from Israel and Turkey, students from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and the U.S. played even harder than their cheering section hollared. The game went into tie-breaker penalty shots, and I could taste the tension. We lost the match in sudden death over-time, and marched back to campus to sing and play drums. Everyone wanted to win, but losing certainly wasn't going to be getting in the way of celebration!

And yes, we do work too. Until this week, homework was just less exciting than building community with my wonderful classmates. Now that I have settled in, exciting academic and activist projects are underway, which I'll highlight soon!