Jakir Manela, CEO of the combined Hazon-Pearlstone Center, talks next steps

The combined Hazon-Pearlstone Retreat Center will release its vision for what it would like to achieve together by the spring of 2022, Jakir Manela, the new CEO, told eJewishPhilanthropy. The merger will be final in about a year, and will require a significant amount of hiring, Manela said.

“Sometimes in the corporate world, mergers are premised on layoffs,” said Manela, previously Pearlstone’s CEO. “That isn’t the case here.” Both organizations had to make COVID-related staff reductions, which will ultimately allow the new group to rebuild its staff in an “integrated way,” he added.

Hazon, launched by Nigel Savage Hazon in 2000 with the Cross-USA Jewish Environmental Bike Ride, merged in 2013 with the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center. Pearlstone opened in 2001, an outgrowth of the Jack Pearlstone Institute for Living Judaism, and launched a community farm in 2006. In 2017, the Baltimore federation, known as The Associated, delegated management of a former camp to Pearlstone, making it a 180-acre property. Pearlstone is an agency of The Associated, Manela said.

“This is a great moment for Hazon, Pearlstone and the [Jewish environmental] movement,” said Adam Weisberg, executive director of Urban Adamah, a farm and education center in Berkeley, Calif. “I’m so excited by the opportunity this provides for the movement to come back into the spotlight and to enrich Jewish life and living.”

Hazon led the creation of the Jewish environmental field, which its professionals and funders refer to as the “JOFEE” movement, for Jewish Outdoor, Food and Environmental Education. In 2014, there more were than 40 organizations, fellowships, conferences and regular programs in the field — about half of them under the auspices of either Hazon or Pearlstone, according to a report funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Leichtag Foundation, The Morningstar Foundation, the Rose Community Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and UJA-Federation of New York.

In 1993, Rabbi Daniel Swartz started the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which today works more on policy initiatives and in its earlier years helped launch environmental education programs at Isabella Freedman.

“It’s amazing to get here from a time when the concept of Jewish outdoor learning only meant summer camps,” he said, adding that the Hazon-Pearlstone merger is smart because it will facilitate the spread of programming that makes environmental concepts come alive, from bike rides to food conferences to farming.

Manela refers to the new organization as “Hazon,” although people who visit Pearlstone or Isabella Freedman or participate in their programs locally will still likely know them by their original names, he said.

The new organization doesn’t yet have any plans or goals it’s ready to announce, but Manela said it will be operating in the Baltimore area, where Pearlstone is located; in the New York area, home of Hazon’s Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center; in Detroit, where Hazon has an office and operates several programs; and in Israel.

Both Hazon and Pearlstone bring other programs to the merger: Pearlstone offers the Farm and Forest School and Tiyul Adventure Camp for children; Hazon’s portfolio includes its Seal of Sustainability and Isabella Freedman’s Teva and Adamah, education programs that combine Judaism and environmental awareness. Teva also operates at Pearlstone.

“The operations are deeply aligned as not just retreat centers, but also working farms,” Manela said, adding that Pearlstone’s programs in Baltimore schools and Hazon’s work in Detroit also complement each other.

Manela and his colleagues plan to talk to consultants about how to help people understand the range of brands and how they fit together.

Hazon’s Seal of Sustainability, which supports organizations that commit to yearlong environmental initiatives, is a national program that the merged organization will maintain, Manela said.

“We need to actually change how we operate as Jewish communities. The time has come. We can’t just pay lip service to this,” he said.

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