Embarking on a somewhat long and arduous trip from San Francisco’s Mission District to the hidden city streets of Berkeley was a journey in the making. Watermelon and strawberries in hand, I traveled to attend a Kabbalat Shabbat I would never forget. A few weeks prior, I had been referred to an organization called Urban Adamah, a non-profit focused on promoting education and community around urban agriculture, social justice and progressive Jewish living and learning in the Bay area. Each month, Urban Adamah hosts a Kabbalat Shabbat service on their rented lot in Berkeley. In describing the event they write:
Kabbalat Shabbat was invented in the 16th century by the Jewish mystics. Today, it is practiced in most Jewish communities as a spiritual and emotional doorway into our day of rest. Our version includes chanting, meditation, poetry, movement and quiet alone time on the farm. Drums, guitar and clarinet will carry us into the night.
The event is free to the public but they ask that attendees register in advance and bring a contribution for the community potluck following the service.
As a former atheist turned Spirit aficionada, I am an avid explorer of all spaces and places that call in a spirit of life. Entering the gates of Urban Adamah, what I discovered hiding in this tiny parking lot behind the city streets of Berkeley was a unique oasis uniting people from all over the city. Immediately, my senses were filled with music, food, warmth and love. Arriving early, I went to the makeshift kitchen to give my dinner contribution and began to explore the space. While the musicians and leaders of the service were joyfully singing and practicing, I took some time to wander around the rows and rows of crafted plant beds, deeply healing for my eyes and soul. Each bed is what they called a “Raised Pallet Bed.” These beds are made from recycled materials, designed to grow plants in city environments and are portable and affordable to create. In addition to the ingenuity of their permaculture movement, Urban Adamah attracts the highest caliber people from all corners of the Bay area. Each person I spoke with was open, loving and truly excited to be there that night.
As the lot became filled with people, the service was opened and everyone filed into a mystical tent covered in lights and colorful drapery. We sat in a circle surrounding the musicians and Shabbat leaders and immediately were given permission to let go of our stories and plug in to the prayer and sacredness of the space. As promised, the service was filled with soulful music, reflective meditations and mystic poetry. There was an unspoken joy in the room echoed on the huge smiles, clapping and merriment seen on everyone’s faces.
One beautiful aspect of the services at Urban Adamah is how accessible they make Jewish mysticism. You do not need to speak Hebrew or have a background in Jewish torah story to feel the inspiration that comes from the teachings shared on the farm. This community brings home the wisdom that Jewish teachings have to share for how to live a more joyful and meaningful life. Their discussions throughout the evening reflected on the beauty and importance of letting go of our stories and taking time to connect to the gift of simply being, and having gratitude for the ability to be alive today. In honoring life through music, food, song, dance and nature, Urban Adamah brought a “new” way of praying that felt as if it was tapping into the roots of where this cultural tradition once came from. Being completely new to the community, I was welcomed with open arms and was surrounded by love and companionship, filling me with an unseen nourishment and energy.
After the service, we gathered around the tables in the communal garden to share in Shabbat dinner. Speaking with others from the area, both new and returning members of the community all agreed that there is a special je ne sai quoi about the way the prayer of this organization is growing. It is a community I hope to continue to connect with during my time in San Francisco. It is also, I hope, a part of a larger movement to revolutionize the way modern day Judaism is taught and shared throughout the US.
For upcoming events and festivals held at Urban Adamah throughout the year you can click here: Upcoming Events.
Also be sure to visit Wilderness Torah. A cousin of Urban Adamah, their mission is “to awaken and celebrate the earth-based traditions of Judaism to nourish the connections between self, community, earth and Spirit.” They also hold inspiring festivals and events in the Bay area and you can find a list of local upcoming events here.
The next Kabbalat Shabbat will be held on September 11, 2015, from 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm. Urban Adamah is located at 1050 Parker St. Berkeley, CA 94710.