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Green Living In Israel

Accessing tikkun olam through community at Hava and Adam Educational Farm.

By Bela Mittelman

We were gathered in one big circle inside the yurt. The room had gone unusually quiet for a party of 30 young adults. All of the laughter and conversation had halted to make way for the beautiful live music that was beginning. We had a singer, two guitarists, a drummer and a harmonica player captivating everyone’s attention. I don’t remember what song they were playing, or even if it was in Hebrew or English.

All I remember is looking up to see that everyone in the room wore an expression that exactly captured my emotions at that moment. We were all smiling and near tears. It didn’t matter that it was chilly, later than any of us normally stayed awake (9 p.m.!) or crowded. We were so joyful, so deeply grateful for each other’s company and talents, so sad that our time together would soon end. It was at that moment, looking around the room at the people I loved so dearly, that I realized we had made it. We were a community, in the truest sense of the word.

Bela Mittelman weeding at the Hava and Adam Educational Farm in central Israel

Our community resides at Hava and Adam Educational Farm in Modi’in, Israel. The farm naturally breeds togetherness, while teaching people of all ages about agriculture, sustainability and permaculture, a design concept intended to create sustainable systems (agriculturally, socially and otherwise) that use natural patterns as a foundation.

One of the many goals of the farm is to create an interconnected social system involving all different kinds of people. As a result, it is host to many programs, including participants in Shnat Sherut (a gap-year program of volunteering that some Israelis complete before their army service), ever-changing volunteers from all over the world, residential and commuting staff, school and tour groups, troubled youth, visitors for the community gardens and Eco-Israel. Eco-Israel ( is a five-month Masa program that encompasses a permaculture course, agricultural work, studies about Israel and Judaism as well as Hebrew classes, all in the context of communal living on an organic farm. It is what ultimately provided a framework for me to come to Israel for an extended period.

I had known that I was ready to leave my home in Oak Park and begin traveling, and I had known that the most comfortable place for me to start would be in Israel. I also knew that I was not confident enough in myself to get on a plane, put on a backpack and hope for the best; I needed a program that would promote my independence, stimulate me academically and provide opportunity to explore new places.

Freshly picked radishes from the fields shown by Jena Blumenthal and Bela Mittelman

Upon my arrival at Hava and Adam, I knew I had made the right decision. The excitement I had felt when poring through their website was nothing compared to the amazement I felt at the lush fields, well-cared-for chickens and donkeys, and environmentally friendly mud buildings.

Within the first two weeks, I was engrossed in my classes and enthused to be living the concepts I believed in. It was affirming to learn that recycling was much vaster than I ever knew, that I could live without creating any garbage and that growing my own vegetables was possible.

Today, nearing the end of an enriching five months, I can truly say that I will be able to return to Oak Park with an entirely new approach to daily life. However, I can also say that this is not the most valuable lesson I have received from Eco-Israel.

The greatest knowledge I have gained has been the ability to live in a community, but more importantly, to recognize the value of such a thing. I needed to make typical adjustments as anyone does in a new living situation, such as settling in with new scenery and accepting annoying quirks about group members. There were plenty of conflicts regarding varying preferences about extra activities, ways of decision-making and approaches to communication.

It was difficult at first. I wondered if things would ever run smoothly between the 14 Ecos. Eventually, we learned how to interact appropriately with each other by truly listening before speaking and responding respectfully. Day-to-day life on the farm became easier.

In the last two months, we have become as effective as a nice, warm compost pile. Just as a compost bin brings together nitrogen in the form of food scraps and carbon in the form of dry organic matter to create fertilizer for the soil, we combine many different backgrounds and views to create one rich, healthy and productive group that is capable of making a difference in our surroundings. We all share the experience of feeling supported, enriched, inspired and educated by each other. That is the beauty of a community, particularly a permaculture-oriented community: There is no waste. Each person has a purpose, each person is valued, each person is part of an important web that would suffer without his or her contribution. This is true tikkun olam, repairing of the world.

Eco-Israel participants Bela Mittelman, Jessica Fleisch, Jenna Blumenthal, Maya Wolf and Sara Rapaport share a song while harvesting spinach.

It may come off as idealistic to suggest that the entire world would be a better place if each individual were appreciated by a larger group, but Hava and Adam Educational Farm and the Eco-Israel program have proved to me that it’s possible. I have experienced the true power of community in my own personal development. Even visitors to the farm comment on the positive impact of this style of living.

I know when I return to Oak Park, I will not necessarily live in such a tight-knit community. What I do know, though, is that I can take this significant lesson of tikkun olam with me. I now have the ability to treat each person I encounter with an honest sense of respect and tolerance, even when it is difficult.

I am looking forward to the wide grins I will share with the friends, family and strangers I encounter when I return home to practice this great skill. It is my hope that, together with my fellow Jews in Detroit, we can continue to develop our community to a point of rich compost, ready to fertilize the next seeds we are ready to plant.

Bela Mittelman, 21, attended Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit and Akiva Hebrew Day School before transferring to Berkley High School and later attending Wayne State University. She has volunteered at various farms in Detroit as well as at the Friendship Circle. Upon her return from Hava and Adam Educational Farm (, she hopes to become more involved in green efforts within the Jewish community of Metro Detroit.



  1. Zev Nadler on 02/26/2012 6:08 AM at 6:08 AM


    I am very proud of you. It is rewarding to see my Buddy’s baby…somebody you’ve known as a little girl, and as a teenager on a Grand Canyon train, blossom so wonderfully.

    Good for you and everybody who is part of your energy.

    Blessings from Uncle Zev :)))

  2. Avrum Rosensweig on 02/28/2012 2:32 PM at 2:32 PM

    Bela, you are a fine activist and writer. This article was an absolute pleasure to read particularly because it came from your mind and fingertips.
    Well done on live my dear! We’re inspired by you.

    Love Avrum and Noah

  3. Jef Reynolds on 02/29/2012 12:51 AM at 12:51 AM


    What an insightful article!
    Thanks for taking the initiative and sharing your community experience with everyone.

    You also make all of us extremely proud of your enterprising spirit.

    Blessings to you and your friends,

    Jef Reynolds

  4. Bela Mittelman on 12/28/2012 3:41 AM at 3:41 AM

    I never knew this was available on the internet until now! Thank you so much for all of your kind words! It was so nice to see.



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