Josh Tolkan

Kibbutz Lotan Green Apprenticeship
After graduating from Carleton College in Minnesota with a concentration in environmental and technology studies, I was interested in gaining hands-on ecological experience and seeing Israel. On Masa Israel’s Kibbutz Lotan Green Apprenticeship program, I was able to explore the fields of permaculture and natural building. Today, in my work with AmeriCorps, I apply the lessons I learned on Kibbutz Lotan through conducting eco-projects in low-income areas of Minneapolis.
While I always had a strong interest in the environment and served as the nature counselor at a day camp during summer breaks from college, Kibbutz Lotan gave me the tools and vision to lead an environmentally conscious life. Combining practical study with hands-on projects, I learned about gardening and sustainable natural building, and took part in building the first geodesic dome in Kibbutz Lotan’s Green Apprenticeship neighborhood. A few other apprentices and I also built a sunflower-shaped bench solely from used material, including old tires and plastic bins.
The most important lesson I gleaned from my experience was probably the simplest one: it was to encourage people, and especially children, to connect with the earth. In order to craft a population that cares about the environment, children must have the experience of planting a seed that becomes a plant. Upon my return to Minnesota, I took this lesson with me in my work at the day camp, where I started Kibbutz Keshet and worked with the campers to plant a garden and build an earth oven, and to the Roots and Reading group in Minneapolis, which combined reading and gardening for children from low-income families.
After earning a Masters degree in urban planning with a certificate in metropolitan design from the University of Minnesota, I got a job with AmeriCorps’ Project for Pride in Living, a nonprofit which addresses poverty and low-income housing in the Twin Cities.
There, I work on a variety of projects, including several landscaping initiatives, redesigning poorly engineered storm water ponds that look like mud pits into beautiful natural amenities, and planting gardens with nonpolluting native plants in the new “Eco-Village,” a neighborhood which is stricken with foreclosed vacant homes.
Though I had not expected to find such a green-conscious community in the small country, its presence in Israel soon made sense to me. As tikkun olam, or seeking to repair the world, is a core Jewish value, environmental awareness should be a central part of Judaism. In everything I do, I try to remember the values I gained on Kibbutz Lotan and incorporate them into my work.