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Notes from a Small Planet: We Lose a Precious One

Basia Yoffe
October 22, 2013
by Basia Yoffe Africa-1FOUR YEARS AGO I wrote an article for my column in Jewish Currents on “What Young Green Jews Are Thinking”. This post will focus on one “young green Jew.” Earlier this month, a tragedy befell the Jewish environmental community with the devastating loss of Jonah Adels. Jonah was a graduate student at Yale’s school of Forestry and Environmental Science. He had worked for Eden Village Camp, the Jewish Farm School, and the Teva Learning Alliance. JonahJonah died from injuries sustained in a car accident, which had him in a coma for three months. These are some of the words I shared with his family and community during his coma and at the conclusion of shiva. SOME THINGS IN LIFE you just don’t see coming. Three years ago I found myself sitting across the breakfast table with Jonah and Gabe Adels, two brothers less than half my age. What I thought would be a mundane breakfast during the Teva Seminar became a vicarious adventure through the tales told by these two young men. They told me about cycling across India together. In my own youth, I had traveled across Europe using a Eurail pass, finishing my journey in Greece and then flying to Israel, where I lived for a year and a half. I found in Jonah and Gabe kindred spirits. After that seminar, I saw Jonah on a regular basis at Eden Village Camp and at Isabella Freedman. He never let the age difference between us stop him from sharing his vision of the future or tell me about the work he was doing. He had the same patience with other baby-boomer women in the movement. All of us “Grey Hevra,” as we call ourselves, loved and admired Jonah. We are devastated by his passing. Jonah became an avid student of permaculture. He enthusiastically told me about a two-volume set, Edible Forest Gardens, which he was reading. The books, he explained, taught which plants to plant together to create a forest garden. Jonah had a clear understanding of the urgency of climate change. I remember one conversation in particular, as he drove me to the train station in Cold Spring. He was so precious to me as he declared, “We are really in a pickle.” jonaharrestMUCH TO MY CHAGRIN, he was arrested in a action against the Keystone XL Pipeline two years ago. It worried me that he was taking such drastic measures; who knows how it would affect his future? I had been arrested in the same action, two days earlier, but I felt strongly that it should only be people my age and older who were endangering our “futures” that way — and that if we boomers had been more aware and done more earlier in our lives, the Jonahs of the younger generation would not have such a mess on their hands. Altogether, 1,253 activists were arrested. It was an action that bonded the two of us. Jonah shared Shavuos this year with me and many others at Isabella Freeman. He prodded me to share my ideas about saving the world from climate change. Elders are supposed to encourage younger people, but Jonah generously reversed the norm. He also shared details of his life: Right before Shavuos, he said, the engine of his car had blown up. The car had been warning him with weird noises, days and even weeks in advance; he talked, now, about how, in the future, he planned to heed the warnings that life sent him. His face really brightened when he spoke of visiting friends and their baby; it brightened even more when he spoke of his girlfriend. Jonah suffered a bad case of Lyme disease in recent years. I remember seeing him planting trees with an antibiotic drip taped to his arm. He was a determined young man and he and his family attracted love and support from many. Unfortunately, his strength and resolve, and the love of his khevre, were not enough to enable him to overcome his injuries, endure his coma, and survive. Nati Passow, the director of the Jewish Farm School, shared a part of Jonah’s application to join his staff, so here is Jonah in his own words: “As I have grown older, my profound interrogation of science and natural history, the practice of art and music all over the world, and my abiding love for the sheer imagination of human religious experience, have contributed to an ever-widening appreciation of G-d and the astonishing diversity of humanity’s relationship to G-d. I have a strong background in Buddhist philosophy and meditation, have practiced yoga on a daily basis for over six years, have lived with Hindu babas in waterfall caves and been initiated in Shamanic traditions of northeastern. And all of this has contributed to my Judaism, which is as vibrant, musical, mystical, traditional and ecologically rooted as any of these traditions and more so. I am proud to be Jewish and believe majestically in tikkun olam, the restoration of the world. I achieve this mostly through the sharing of music and working with plants. I am gifted in the transmission of these practices to others, especially children, and believe for these reasons, that I would be a exuberant and soulful addition to your team.” To see a video showing Jonah on Teva Learning Center’s Topsy-Turvey Bus Tour, look below. Basia Yoffe conducts the “Notes from a Small Planet” column in Jewish Currents and is a member of our magazine’s editorial board.