Gratitude at Urban Adamah

Modeh ani lefanecha ruach chai v’kayam

“I am grateful before You eternal living spirit”

From the Modeh ani, traditional morning prayer, Urban Adamah version.

In my first few weeks here at Urban Adamah, gratitude keeps emerging as a central theme. At first I didn’t recognize it. It was just a subtle feeling I had been carrying around, something I felt when Chloe, our Fellowship director, transformed Lake Anza into a mikveh (ritual bath) for the twelve of us Fellows, and when we were hiking back down through Tilden Regional Park in silence afterward. It was something I felt when, within just a few hours of meeting them, I began to have intimate and meaningful conversations with my housemates, talks which made me feel seen and heard and at home. It’s something I’ve felt every time I’ve noticed a seed sprouting or a stalk growing or a flower opening up in the greenhouse, where in the span of a few weeks I’ve gone from a known killer of succulents to, somehow, a nurturing plant-parent. Gratitude has been with me from the very beginning, from the moment I stepped off the plane in San Francisco, saw a few queer couples, and knew, thank God, that I’d arrived. It just took me about a week and half to be able to put a name to it.

Every Thursday, Kate—another Fellow—and I bike down from Berkeley to West Oakland to work at People’s Grocery, a community garden on the property of the historic California Hotel, which opened in 1930 and by the 1940s had developed into an important Black cultural center. In its heyday, the hotel hosted such iconic figures as James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and many more. It began to decline in the 1960s and eventually (but only temporarily) closed its doors. Today, California Hotel serves as subsidized housing for West Oakland’s low-income and disabled communities. With its awesome presence and history, California Hotel and its gracious, welcoming residents are enough to inspire gratitude in and of themselves, and it was while working there on our first Thursday in Oakland that it clicked for me that gratitude was the common thread that ran through so many of my experiences.

On that first Thursday, Kate and I helped set up and got to stay for “Flavas in the Garden,” a weekly event where California Hotel residents and community members get to gather in the garden, eat, and engage in facilitated discussion. Topics can range from racial equity and politics, to food justice, health, and pretty much anything else. The first week we were there, the topic, as it turned out, was gratitude, and all of us in the circle were invited to share a few things we were feeling grateful for on that particular Thursday. A lot of people shared their gratitude for Heather, the gardener extraordinaire and sole staff member at People’s Grocery, whose birthday it just so happened to be. A lot of people thanked God for waking them up to a new day every morning. I gave my gratitude to Berkeley, and to Oakland, and I think expressing that has helped me feel closer to both cities.


The underlying philosophy of our conversation during “Flavas” was that the energy you put out into the universe is the energy you attract. While that might sound a little esoteric and New Age, it’s a concept that has found itself expressed in many of the world’s prominent religious traditions. Think of karma. Think of prayer. Rabbi Michael Lerner, in his book Jewish Renewal, writes:

Judaism places transcendence on the agenda of the human race. Human beings need not be stuck in a world of pain and oppression. We can regain contact with a deeper level of being, a level more consonant with who we really are — namely, beings who are created in the image of God, who embody an inherent tendency toward goodness and holiness, toward being ’embodied spirituality.’ Transcendence is not transcending this world, but rather our ability to bring more fully into being in this world aspects of ourselves and aspects of reality that surround us but to which we have become tone deaf. Every inch of creation, every cell of being, not only contains atoms stored with physical energy, but also contains and reflects the spiritual and moral energy that we call God. Much of the pain and oppression we experience in this world is a reflection of the way we do not recognize God in the world, in one another, in ourselves. (Lerner 29)

This path of transcendence that Rabbi Lerner identifies within Judaism sounds to me a lot like a path of gratitude. Gratitude is a strategy by which we can open our eyes and ears again to the positive aspects of our experiences, to the things we want to acknowledge and manifest in the world. The expression of and meditation on gratitude actively shapes one’s perspective into one of positivity, even if that gratitude feels forced or hard to find. It’s not about ignoring the things about the world and ourselves that we would like change, but about transforming the world and ourselves through the filter of our perceptions. A world characterized by positivity is one in which it is easier to move and breathe and create change. There is a political element to this as well. Practicing radical gratitude can be seen as a strategy for self-preservation, a crucial praxis of resistance in a time when the struggle is as all-encompassing, ongoing, and daily as it is today. If oppression operates through a strategy of dividing people and making us feel small, radical gratitude serves to unite us and remind us of our collective power. It reminds us that, even as there are institutions and systems of oppression we wish to dismantle, there are values we wish to preserve. Let us not forget our values.

Thinking about gratitude in this way, something I’ve come to realize is that the dominant mode through which I have tended to relate to myself and the world around me is one of negativity—focusing on aspects that I do not like, that I want to suppress. Flipping that and focusing instead on positivity, on the things that I enjoy, the qualities of existence for which I am grateful and which I want to foster at least feels healthier, more productive. I’m trying to put that into practice. It’s a slow process—I have a lot of unlearning to do—but I believe in my ability to achieve my goals. After all, I have people to help me along the way.

To get started, here are a few things I’m grateful for:

The source of life, which wakes me up every day

My body, which protects and cares for me, and which I hope to protect and care for in return

The Earth, which houses and nourishes us all

History and tradition, which guide us

Fiona and Inana, the goats at Urban Adamah, who bring happiness to all of us here

Thank you.

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