Wisdom/Chochmah Proposition 1: In an age of globalization, Jewish institutions need to offer multiple avenues to explore chochmah, the wisdom of our sacred texts put into the context of the world’s religions and in the language of contemporary culture.
Pearlstone is one of the national leaders of the JOFEE movement, pioneering a new avenue with great success so far in bringing to life the immense wisdom of Jewish tradition in relation to land, agriculture, and sustainability. We do this through experiential field trips, hands-on gardening and animal care, DYI farm to table workshops, and much more. Our most text-focused program is the Beit Midrash, an eco-Limmud of sorts where we attract well over 150 participants from all walks of Jewish life—young and old, orthodox and reform, institutional leaders and unaffiliated millennials—to engage with primary Jewish sources and their relevance to the pressing environmental issues of today.
Social Justice/Tzedek Proposition 2: At a time when our political culture seems so dysfunctional and the social and environmental threats to the planet grow exponentially every year, the Jewish community needs to provide ever more ways to advance tzedek in the world.
We aim for every Pearlstone experience to educate, inspire, and motivate retreat guests and program participants to create a more just sustainable world. From food choices to energy consumption, our goal as a Green Center is to consistently model active steps that maximize our institutional sustainability, while making these steps accessible and attractive to individuals, families, congregations, and institutions. This is also equally relevant and true for our non-Jewish clients as well.
Community/Kehillah Proposition 3: At a time when technology has made meaningful social intercourse much harder to come by, the Jewish community must offer places where people can find support in times of need, communal celebration in times of joy, and friendships to make life fulfilling.
Jewish intentional community is a natural outgrowth of the JOFEE movement, where deep relationships are formed in seasonal fellowship programs that transform young adults’ lives through land-based Jewish community life. From the time my wife Nets and I moved to Pearlstone in order to start the farm here, it has been our most important ongoing goal to build upon our Teva/Adamah experience in order to create an ongoing, residential Jewish intentional community. We are now on the cusp of doing just that, and if it actually does manifest here than we are likely to raise our kids here for a long time.
Lives of Sacred Purpose/Kedushah Proposition 4: In an age when we better understand the shortcomings of capitalism and the culture of consumerism, the Jewish community must offer a glimpse of kedushah, experiences that provide holiness, transcendent meaning, and a sense of purpose.
This vision of kedushah experiences, transcendant and holy, is what inspired the creation of the retreat center in the first place. It is absolutely fundamentally true that Jews—and Americans in general—need sanctuaries and oases where screens are not central and real relationship and connection allow our true nature and spirit to rise and flourish. At its core, that is the work we do here—whether it is through retreats, farming, education, or building intentional community—at our core we aim to cultivate connection.
Jakir Manela is the Executive Director of the Pearlstone Center near Baltimore, MD. After founding Kayam Farm at Pearlstone in 2006, Jakir now directs the entire agency, working with his staff to engage over 20,000 participants each year in retreats, transformative Jewish education, and hands-on sustainability. Together with his wife and three sons, Jakir is establishing a Jewish ecovillage on the Pearlstone Campus.