Archive - December 2013

A Just Cup of Coffee – Guest Blog by Rabbi E. Schoenberg

fair trade postcardWe are pleased to feature this guest blog by Rabbi Elliot Salo Schoenberg, Associate Executive Director of The Rabbinical Assembly.  Working with their Social Action Committee, the RA passed a fair trade resolution in 2012 and now only serves fair trade coffee on its premises.

Jacob Emden was one of the leading Jewish religious figures of the 18th century.  He wrote 31 books.  He lived in a Jewish world still reeling from the impact of  Sabbatai Tzvi the false messiah.   Sabbatenism had gone underground. Emden saw as his mission to uproot  this hidden evil.  Emden is most well known for accusing Jonathan Eyberschutz of being a Sabbatean.  Let me share with you one incident from Emden’s life.  In 1721 shortly after his father’s death, he went to London England to collect monies owed to his father.  He went to a coffee house to drink coffee, a new drink just introduced to Europe.  The rabbinical authorities in London forbade the drinking of coffee in coffee ouses because they concluded it was not kosher.  Emden is asked to leave. He refuses.  Why? There is some speculation he went to the coffee house, the poor man’s university, to soak up secular culture and learning.  However, the current research holds that Emden acquired his secular learning in a disciplined and organized way not informally. So  why did he go to the coffee house?  He loved to drink coffee. One of the most important Jewish figures of the 18th century organized his day around drinking coffee. However we understand this incident it is fair to say:   NOT JUST A CUP OF COFFEE, A JEWISH CUP.

What role does coffee play in Jewish life?  It is not connected to a specific Jewish holiday. Coffee is a part of every day life.  Coffee fit in well with Judaism.  If you drink coffee before praying in the morning, it made for better davening.  If you drink coffee after dinner, it made for better study of Torah.  If you drink coffee after midnight, it made for greater  tikkun   the bringing of heaven down to earth.  Recent scholarly research shows a direct connection to the spread of the Shavuot ritual of tikkun leyl shavuot from east to west, as coffee usage spread from Yemen to Eastern Europe to Western Europe.  What role does coffee play in Jewish life? Coffee makes possible a more intensive Jewish experience.


Is Coffee kosher? Coffee was a new product to pre -modern Jews, it was not known to the rabbis of the Talmud. There were some initial questions.  What blessing do you say over coffee, the blessing over fruit or the blessing over a drink? The correct blessing might be in doubt, but not the kashrut of the coffee itself.   Can you drink  coffee in a coffee house? Perhaps the utensils are not kosher.  But coffee was always kosher at home.  There were questions but how to make coffee on Shabbat so it would not violate the laws of cooking on Shabbat.  But there never was a questions on how to make coffee the rest of the week.


Jews worked in the coffee trade.  Sephardi Jews from Holland acted as middle men importing coffee from the Caribbean to Europe.  Some Askenazic Jews who were already  local spice  peddlers added coffee to their roster of goods.  Civic governments in 17th 18th, and 19th century Europe permitted Jews to trade in coffee because it was not important economically.  However, when the coffee traded boomed, anti Jewish legislation is introduced forbidding Jews to compete with Christian merchants. One example may suffice to represent the situation.  In Frankfurt, for over 20 years, from 1760s-1780s, the city government debated and enacted laws denying Jews the right to sell coffee.  The objections were based on limits to Jewish retailing from 1612 an ordinance which defined which spices and commodities Jews could peddle like pepper, cloves and cinnamon.  Coffee is not mentioned on the list because it was not available in Germany at the time.  Christian merchants argued since it was not explicitly permitted it must be prohibited.  Jewish merchants argued since it was not explicitly prohibited, it was permitted. The government heeded the Christians.


This summer I was in St. Louis at the annual Hillel Institute. I took the opportunity to have lunch at Panera Cares.  You may know Panera, a hugely successful chain of restaurants.  At Panera Cares there is no price list. You pay what you can.  If you can pay more you may add to the suggested price list. If you can only pay less, you pay what you can.  If you cannot afford to pay at all, you work for your meal.  The literature from the website says, “There are now five non-profit community cafes across the country and they’re all working. They elevate the issue of food insecurity, they offer a vehicle for those with the means to help those with a need, and they help nourish their local communities. Based on their success, we feel confident in attempting this escalation of our efforts against hunger and challenging the St. Louis community to take care of each other.” Ron Shaich is the founder and CEO of Panera Bread Co. and the driving force behind Panera Cares.   In reflecting why he made the move, Shaich says “I never got into business to be in business. I got into business because it was the way in which I made a difference and I could have an impact.  When I was 17 I visited a soup kitchen with my Temple youth group.  I never forgot that experience.”


How many of you drink Coffee in the morning?  How many of you order a special cup of coffee say Machiacco Latte with an Extra Expresso?  How many of you feel better after you drink your cup of coffee?  Who wants to make a difference in the world on a daily basis?

NOT JUST A CUP OF COFFEE BUT A JUST CUP OF COFFEE.  The next stage in the history of coffee and Jewish people is to purchase Fair Trade Coffee.   Every morning before I daven I make a cup of Fair Trade Coffee.  It is kosher, It intensifies my religious experience. and I am making a difference in the world. What is Fair Trade Coffee?  Fair Trade certifies that the entire growing and and manufacturing process was monitored so that:

  • Workers are paid a living wage
  • No child labor is allowed
  • Workers are guaranteed safe and healthy work conditions.
  • Environmentally sustainable methods are used
  • Is a practical daily demonstration of the Jewish value of tzedekah.

How does Fair Trade work?  In addition to monitoring the working conditions,  a percentage of the purchase price goes back to the community for communal projects.  Communiites build water purification systems, support preventive medicine visits from doctors, sponsor education  on sustainable agriculture and  provide education to the children of the workers.


Wanjohi is a coffee farmer in Gikanda, Kenya. He attended Gatundu Primary School.  His school had a dirt floor full of holes and the classrooms were  infested with bugs.  The roof of the school was rusted iron sheeting that did not do a great job protecting the students from rain.  All the blackboards were broken.  The teacher would stand on a rock to reach a part of the blackboard that was unbroken.  Kenyans often refer to coffee as black gold.  Since 1999 100% of Gikanda Farmer’s Cooperative  coffee is sold as Fair Trade certified.    The cooperative has used the money to build a new school.  Wanjohi’s daughter Damaris is enrolled in the new school which has cement floors, brick walls and and now desks . Most recently they build a science laboratory allowing the children access to competitive science education. Wanjohi says, “Look at my daughter in third grade.  You only have to look at my daughter’s eagerness to learn to see the difference that Fair Trade made has made in our community.”

On this shabbat let us continue to drink our coffee, let us enjoy our daily morning cup of coffee.  But if we drink the right cup of coffee we can change the world.  NOT JUST A CUP OF COFFEE BUT A JUST CUP.   Shabbat Shalom.


Let’s be partners for change

Today’s guest post is by Author and Book Reviewer Ronald Fischman, with deep thanks for his reflections on our Mishkan Shalom (Philadelphia) presentation. Ron writes:

I remember the very beginning of microcredit as a movement. I was there. My congressman, Ed Feighan (D-OH) introduced legislation that would make it part of US foreign aid. I worked with his legislative director, George Stephanopoulos, yes, that one, to make it law. Today my heart leapt as I met Ilana Schatz, Executive Director of Fair Trade Judaica, and learned of her initiative to make microenterprise the norm at Jewish B’nai Mitzvah, weddings, and synagogue celebrations. Why was I so pumped?

If you don’t have time to read my gushing review, you have my blessing to go learn for yourself.

I learned of a weaver named Lili Carmen Osario in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala, where my two children were born, who created the first ever Fair Trade Tallit (prayer shawl), and who trained five other weavers to make these on order through MayaWorks in Chicago (, Mayaworks has people tie the fringes under Rabbinic supervision. Wouldn’t it be better to give such a special prayer garment to your son or daughter? Wouldn’t he or she look forward to showing off the new holy threads at services AFTER becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah, knowing that they helped the children of a village go to school?

I learned of a micro farmers cooperative in Ghana, West Africa, with 65,000 members who hold stock in and sit on the board of their distribution company. With their profits, the members have provided safe drinking water, free primary education, and basic health care to themselves on a cooperative basis, and listen! Before the cooperative, when the only source of credit was a moneylender, dozens of micro farmers lost their land. Together, the coop bought back these farms and lent the money to the farmers to begin anew.

I learned of a cooperative in Nepal which is so successful that it advertises in the airline magazine for people on transoceanic flights. But this is no corporation, no shadowy entity controlled by a few self-dealing insiders. I saw the photos of the cooperators themselves. Ilana told us about them and each of their families! I was thrilled to learn the origin of the prayer flags that had popped up in my synagogue.

What can you do? First, visit the Fair Trade Judaica website and explore. Don’t worry, if a product you or your organization wants is available direct from the artisan, the site will give you the link to order directly. Second, contact them directly if you want to incorporate anything from kosher fair trade chocolate to kippot for a celebration. Third, introduce this concept in your synagogue or organization. Learn and share why this is a Jewish issue. You can make it a policy that your synagogue will NOT buy textiles made in sweatshops in China or Bangladesh. When there is a will, there’s a way.

Let’s be partners for change.

Ronald Fischman

Sweeten Your Rosh Hashanah With Fair Trade Honey

Rosh Hashanah Honey CakeNow that we’re in the month of Elul, I’m starting to plan my Rosh Hashanah meals – yummy round raisin challahs, some kind of fish dish, vegetable tsimmes, apple noodle kugel, several salads and vegetable dishes, and of course, ending with a delicious honey cake (see recipe below)!

 Many of us are deeply concerned about the declining numbers of bee colonies around the world, partly because we love watching bees at work and also because they are the major pollinators for most of our food crops.  Major contributing factors include widespread use of pesticides and fungicides and parasitic mites in beehives.  One of the ways each of us can help is by supporting small and local beekeepers, especially those practicing organic farming, both near our communities and from beekeepers around the world.

 Fair Trade Sweetens the Deal

In the US and Europe, a large percentage of the imported honey is produced by impoverished bee keepers in developing countries in Latin America and Asia.  Most bee keeping families live in remote areas, with limited access to transport or market information.  They often lack the infrastructure to store and transport the honey without negatively affecting quality, and haven’t received training that would help them identify the different types of honey, thus losing the opportunity to sell their product at a higher price.

 As a result, many beekeepers are dependent on local middlemen to buy their honey.  Given this weak bargaining position, they’re forced to sell it at fraction of its real market value, and are not able to make a sustainable livelihood.

 Fair Trade offers producers an agreed upon minimum price, independent of market rates.  Bee keeper cooperatives are linked directly to Fair Trade buyers, cutting out the middlemen, and creating longer term sustainability.

 Fair Trade standards for honey assure that:

          Producers are small family farms organized in cooperatives (or associations) which they own and govern democratically

          The minimum Fair Trade price is paid directly to the producer cooperatives, allowing producers to cover their production costs

          Environmental standards restrict the use of agrochemicals and ban genetically modified plants

          Pre-harvest lines of credit are provided to the cooperatives if requested, up to 60% of the purchase price

          No forced or child labor is involved

          A Fair Trade premium is included in the purchase price; the cooperatives choose how to use this additional support for social and economic investments, such as education, health services, processing equipment, and loans to members.

 One Fair Trade bee keeping cooperative, Miel Mexicana, based in Morelos, southern Mexico, has 42 members.  It produces nine different types of honey produced from local plants—sunflower, chamomile, mesquite, orange, avocado, cactus, Mexican lilac, campanula and morning glory.  It was founded in 2001, producing about 3 tons of honey.  After being certified organic and Fair Trade in 2004, it now exports 500 tons, and has won many national and international awards for sustainability and honey quality.

One of its members, Sara, is the cooperative’s first woman beekeeper and serves as the cooperative’s treasurer. She joined the co-op after her father, a long time co-op elder, passed away and Sara inherited his beekeeping operation. Sara’s bees forage on pristine, organic wildflowers deep in protected jungles.   She also helps maintain the cooperative’s organic community garden.

The cooperative unites indigenous people, women, elderly, youth, and adults.  With the Fair Trade premium that they receive, the community is building schools and healthcare centers, as well as providing their members with continued training on fair trade and organic practices.  This enables cooperative members to maintain ties to their ancient indigenous cultures while participating in the global marketplace.  One of their goals is to create jobs to help stem migration to the United States, which negatively affects the family and community structure.  Since 2003, there has been zero migration of its bee keepers to the U.S.

This Rosh Hashanah, sweeten the beekeepers’ lives as well by choosing one of these certified Fair Trade and Kosher honey products:

BossBodywords is an online Etsy store featuring natural products. She has a variety of organic fair trade certified and kosher (Earth Kosher) honey products for sale, many of which are flavored with natural herbs (e.g. cinnamon, cherry, fennel, turmeric).

GloryBee produces a wide variety of OU Kosher Pareve certified Fair Trade organic honey products (raw, coffee blossom, organic). You can buy them on-line or find a local store that carries them.

Heavenly Organics gathers honey from naturally occurring wild beehives in India and the Himalayas. It is 100% raw organic, fair trade certified and OU Kosher certified. You can purchase online or visit their store locator to identify where to purchase the honey near you.

Trader Joes’ Organic Raw Honey also comes from bee-keeping cooperatives in Mexico, and is simply the uncooked “unadulterated nectar” of jungle wildflowers. I t has Circle K (OK) Kosher certification and is available in all their stores.

Wholesome Sweetener’s Organic honeys (raw, amber, bottles/jars), certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, come from Fair Trade cooperatives in Mexico, so the farmers also receive a “sweet” and fair wage. You can now purchase their products online at their Amazon store.


Majestic and Moist Honey Cake

Marcy Goldman, A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking


  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 to 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup warm coffee or strong tea
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup rye or whisky (see Note)
  • 1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)


Make cake at least 1 day before eating.

Use a 9-inch angel food cake pan, a 9 by 13-inch sheetpan, or three 8 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper. For gift honey cakes, I use “cake collars” (available from Sweet Celebrations) designed to fit a specific loaf pan. These give the cakes an appealing, professional look.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Make a well in the center and add the oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, orange juice, and rye or whisky.

Using a strong wire whisk or an electric mixer on slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom of the bowl.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s) – fill about half way as the batter rises, and sprinkle the top of the cake(s) evenly with the almonds. Place the cake pan(s) on 2 baking sheets stacked together and bake until the cake springs back when you touch it gently in the center. For angel, bake for 60 to 70 minutes; loaf cakes, 45 to 55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, the baking time is 40 to 45 minutes. This is a liquidy batter and, depending on your oven, it may need extra time. Cake should spring back when gently pressed.

 Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.


A FAIR Way to Cool Yourself Down this Summer!

Berry lemonadeThis summer is breaking lots of high temp records, all across the country.  The best antidote to the heat is staying hydrated, and there’s only so much plain water one can drink!  We’ve gathered some awesomely delicious cold drinks that you can make at home, with a focus on Fair Trade ingredients!

Why Fair Trade?  Because it’s such a Jewish form of ethical consumerism!  Fair trade assures living wages, safe working conditions, no child labor, environmental sustainability – all basic Jewish values.  For a matrix matching Fair Trade principles with Jewish Values, click here:

But where do I find Fair Trade products, you ask!

Here is a list of Fair Trade and Kosher coffee/tea/chocolate products.

These companies produce fair trade sugar and/or vanilla:


–          Camino/La Siembra (for Canadian customers)

–          Deans’s Beans

–          Frontier Natural Products Co-op

–          Wholesome Sweeteners


–          Frontier Natural Products Co-op

Here’s a variety of iced cold drinks you can easily make at home!

Berry Basil Lemonade (Recipe from Global Gallery Coffee Shop)

Ingredients – Makes 1 gallon

2 cups organic fair trade sugar 2 cups organic lemon juice 2 cups hot water 9 cups ice water 1 cup fresh organic basil 1 cup fresh local berries


Dissolve sugar in hot water until saturated.  Add lemon juice and stir until sugar has dissolved the rest of the way.  Crush and add the basil.  Depending on the size of the berry you’ve chosen (strawberries, raspberries and blueberries yield the best results), halve or quarter and add them to the mix.  For extra berry flavor, crush about half of the berries before adding. Add ice water, stir, chill to taste, and serve!  If you’re feeling extra adventurous, pour the mix into an ice cube tray and make mini popsicles, or use the lemon pops in place of regular ice cubes in your favorite fair trade iced tea!

Iced Coffee – Cold Brew For Home Brewing makes 7-8 small glasses of iced coffee (Recipe from Fair Trade Wire)


4 oz coarsely ground Fair Trade organic dark roast coffee Water (filtered where necessary) 2 pitchers 1 strainer 1 wooden or serving spoon a little time (8-12 hours)


Combine 4 oz. of coarsely ground coffee with 64 fluid oz of water (1/2 gallon).  Stir with a large spoon.  Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight, or for about 8-12 hours


Pour coffee into a serving container over a strainer or a fine mesh sieve to separate coffee grinds from liquid.  Pour over ice and serve!


Note: Once the coffee has had a chance to brew for 8 hours, it can be stored in the refrigerator to be kept cold.  Above portions can also be increased as needed- 8 oz. of coffee : 1 gallon of water, etc. 

Iced Mint Tea – Makes one serving (Recipe from Equal Exchange)


3 teaspoons Fair Trade sugar

2  organic mint green tea bags


Cold water


Pour sugar into a glass and place tea bags in the glass so that they are at the bottom. Pour just enough hot water to cover the tea bags. While steeping, gently stir the sugar to dissolve in the water. Take out the tea bags after no more than 1 1/2 minutes, then add ice to fill the glass. Pour in cold water, stir, and enjoy!.


Snow Mocha – Serves 2 large (drinking glass) servings, or 4 small (coffee mug) size servings (Recipe from Fair Trade Resource Network)



2 cups Fair Trade black coffee – brew a little bit stronger than you would usually drink

2/3 cup milk

1-1/2 Tbs. Fair Trade brown sugar (darker is better)

5 Tbs chocolate syrup (make your own from Fair Trade cocoa powder**)

1/4 tsp. cinnamon


Brew the fair trade coffee and freeze it solid. Once it is frozen, put the milk, chocolate syrup, brown sugar, and cinnamon into a blender. Blend ingredients until well mixed. Place the blender into the freezer to chill. Do not let it freeze solid. Meanwhile, remove the frozen coffee and chip

it into small slivers. An ice shaver does this really well. Take out the blender and add the shaved coffee to it. Blend the mixture until it is completely blended. You may have to help the blender out by stirring the top portion of the mix. Place blender back into freezer to chill some more.

 **Homemade Chocolate Syrup Recipe

1 cup Fair Trade cocoa powder (unsweetened)

2 cups Fair Trade (white, brown, combination)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup cold water

1 Tbs. vanilla

Combine cocoa and sugar and blend until all lumps of cocoa are gone. Add water and salt and mix well. Cook over medium heat and bring to a boil slowly, stirring constantly.  Continue stirring on the stove for just a couple more minutes, being careful not to let the sauce burn on the bottom of the pan.  The sauce should still be fairly runny. Remove from heat and let cool. The sauce will thicken up as it cools.  When cool, add vanilla.  You can keep your chocolate syrup in a glass syrup pitcher in the refrigerator; the syrup should not be too thick to pour.

 This blog was published in “The Jew and the Carrot’ in The Forward on July 3, 2013.

A Weaver’s Reflections on Guatemala


Carol Bodin in Guatemala

Carol Bodin Checking Out Spooled Thread

Recently, my husband, Larry, and I went on Fair Trade Judaica’s 2013 Guatemala Tour.  We had a most rewarding and wonderful time.

I am a weaver, dyer, and knitter.  I was amazed at the beautiful vibrant colors in the fiber work.  Since Guatemalan women wear handwoven clothing all the time, you see wonderful color everywhere.  Many of the Guatemalan color combinations are ones I would never use but I have always heard that all colors work together – it is just a matter of proportion.  Guatemalan weavers have this art of proportion down perfectly.  The huipils (women’s tops that vary by village), skirts, and wraps, etc. are exquisite.

The Guatemalan weavers are also masters at the art of weaving.  Using fairly simple looms (either backstrap or 4 harness) they weave amazing fabrics.  We saw wonderful ikats and intricate inlaid designs.  We visited with several weavers and an ikat dyer who shared his whole process with us.  It was like getting a class in ikat dyeing.

Basically, the process is:  The warp threads are wrapped from a beginning stake to an ending stake (as much as a city block away).  In between, these two stakes are many other stakes that help support the warp threads.  The tension along these warp threads has to be perfectly even or the end pattern will not work.  After the warp is wound between the stakes and the tension is adjusted, the wrapping begins.

The skilled ikat dyer knows where to bind off sections of the warp to produce a given pattern. He tightly binds off these sections with additional yarn.  Depending on the desired pattern, he may have bound off 100’s of sections.   The warp is then removed from the stakes and the whole warp is put in a dye bath. The areas that were bound off remain white while the rest of the warp absorbs color.  The warp is then washed and dried and all the wrappings are removed.

Then, the loom is dressed (a lengthy process in itself) and the weaving begins.  Most often a sold colored weft is used but sometimes the weft yarn is also ikat dyed much in the same way that the warp was dyed.  The resulting textiles are wonderful!!

The inlaid patterns are done on a plain weave base.  Supplementary weft threads  are woven on the top to create designs that range from simple to the most intricate.  The supplementary weft can be thought of as the paint used in a picture.

Meeting the weavers was a most rewarding experience.  They showed such pride in their work.  One of the highlights of the trip was when Ilana met the woman who wove her tallis.  Both women were so moved.  We also saw lovely woven and embroidered challah and matzo covers.

And speaking of weaving, one could not have had a more perfect guide than Deborah Chandler.  Many US weavers were introduced to weaving by her book ‘Learning to Weave ’ (with Debbie Redding).  Her knowledge of Guatemala and Guatemalan fiber arts was accompanied by her wonderful sense of humor.  In fact, we had 3 guides for just 14 of us.  In addition to Deborah, we had Jeannie Belanda and Bellisario Gonzalez, a local guide.  No question went unanswered.

We also visited two groups of women who crocheted Kippot –the most amazing Kippot.  Of course, they were very colorful and very well done.  In both groups, we met all of the artists.  They were so proud of their work and their new designs.  Needless to say, my whole family now have kippot from Guatemala.   Moreover, we are anxiously waiting to see the soon-to-be-popular Venn-Bodin kippah (based on the Venn diagram) that my husband, Larry, designed.

Larry and I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who has the opportunity to take it.  We feel most fortunate that we were part of the experience.

The Journey Towards Fair Trade Kosher for Passover Chocolate

I am having the (metaphorical) experience of spending 40 years crossing the desert, just like our ancestors.  The journey of having Fair Trade and Kosher for Passover chocolate produced is taking a lot longer and is much more complicated than I ever imagined.  Manna appears regularly in the form of amazing people whom I am lucky to meet, so I am being fed along the way!  Here’s the unfolding story…


In October 2010, I was first introduced to the issue of child labor in the cocoa fields of West Africa when I watched the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” at the Fair Trade Federation conference.  I was so affected by the stark reality that I couldn’t move or speak for 10 minutes after watching the movie.  On the spot, I was inspired to suggest that we broaden Fair Trade Judaica’s mission from focusing on Judaica products to building a Fair Trade movement in the Jewish community; one of the key principles of the Fair Trade movement is prohibiting child labor in product development/production.  Our Advisory Board strongly supported that idea.

We received a small grant from Equal Exchange and quickly put together educational materials.   Fair Trade Judaica hosted six DVD screenings/discussions around the country and distributed the educational materials through other organizations before Passover 2011.  And the issue began to be talked about online and at Seders throughout country.  While there are many delicious Fair Trade and Kosher chocolate products none of them are Kosher for Passover. During that campaign we realized the irony of not having Fair Trade and Kosher for Passover chocolate.  While there are other environmental and social certification programs, Fair Trade is recognized as the strongest in terms of monitoring and accountability about child labor.

Why is Chocolate Such a Kosher for Passover Issue?

Chocolate poses a unique issue for Passover kashrut – most chocolate products contain lecithin as an emulsifier, and lecithin is usually obtained from soybeans, part of the “kitniyot” (legumes) category, whose consumption is prohibited during Passover in the Ashkenazi community.  This is not as much an issue in Sephardi/Mizrahi communities. The companies that don’t use lecithin need to add additional cocoa for the right consistency, which raises the price of the final chocolate product.  (Who ever figured I’d learn so much about chocolate????).

The Issues We’re Facing

Over the past year or so, we have spent at least 100 hours researching and speaking with about a dozen Fair Trade companies about their interest in producing a Kosher for Passover chocolate product, and with a few Kosher manufacturers/certifiers about sourcing Fair Trade cocoa.  Most have said that they’re not interested; their reasons include:

          They don’t think the market is big enough and therefore no profit will be made.  This led us to distribute our Fair Trade Kosher for Passover Petition in 2012 () which over 1,000 of you have signed to show that there is such a market!).

          There is concern that the potential extra cost of using Fair Trade cocoa would make their products uncompetitive.  Fair Trade chocolate is usually of a much higher quality than other chocolate, which accounts for part of price differential (not just the Fair Trade certification process)

          There is concern about the cost of the Kosher for Passover certification process which can run several thousand dollars, a big expense for a small company

          They are not interested in manufacturing contract products, e.g. a specific product that wouldn’t become part of their yearlong inventory

          It’s just “too complicated”

          It requires 12-18 months to design/produce/market new products and the companies have other priorities

          Several Fair Trade manufacturers expressed concern about having the Kosher certifying staff in their kitchens for the entire production period and causing disruption

The Good News

On the Dayenu side of the journey, we are in conversation with a wonderful Fair Trade company who is conducting serious research to make this happen.  However,adding a Kosher for Passover certification will require major changes involving several different steps and players.  They are proceeding as quickly as possible, and we hope will be successful.

In the spring of 2012 we began a discussion with a matzah company about sourcing Fair Trade cocoa for its chocolate covered matzah.;  Given the complexity of their supply chain they need to order the raw materials by early summer for the following Passover season.  There just wasn’t time to get it done for 2013.  We have been doing research since that time and have identified one confirmed and another potential source of Fair Trade cocoa.  They are seriously looking at the competitive price issues,  as matzah companies compete for shelf space, so even a few cents’ difference in price could make a difference! 

In our conversations over the past year and a half, many Fair Trade chocolate companies told us that they have decided to explore Kosher certification, which would offer a wider selection of products, and perhaps provide another partner for us to work with.

What YOU Can do to Help us Bring Fair Trade Kosher for Passover Chocolate Closer to Reality!

1.       Sign our Petition to show manufacturers the deep desire and market in our community for these products

2.       Get involved as a volunteer with us to move this effort forward

3.       Read this Haggadah supplement at your Passover Seder

4.       Download a photo of cocoa beans on your Seder plate and talk about the issue; it’s free!

5.       Make a donation  to support our work and receive a “Virtual Fair Trade Kosher for Passover” chocolate bar for your Seder plate

6.       Learn more about the issue

7.       Host  a screening of “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD and educate others

8.       Contact us with connections you have to a Fair Trade chocolate company or a Kosher chocolate manufacturer

9.       Let us know if you’d be willing to work with  us on a crowd-sourcing fundraising effort to help cover the initial cost of Kosher for Passover certification

10.   Share any other ideas, suggestions, offers

Reflections on our Guatemala Experience

by David Lingren, FTJ’s Chief Technology Maven

Fair Trade Judaica’s recent trip to Guatemala was a unique opportunity to meet the people behind many of the beautiful Judaica products we’ve been promoting. We visited six artisan groups, some conveniently located around Lake Atitlan and others requiring hours of travel to more remote inland villages.

The immediate benefits of Fair Trade were simple and clear; steady work, decent wages, fair treatment and a wider audience for the magnificant weaving traditions of the Mayan culture. Over the days of our visits and conversations with the artisans a larger understanding of their lives suggested itself.

These are proud, complex people; mostly women, although a few men are included. They were as curious about our lives as we were about theirs, and they responded warmly to our stories of what the Judaica they were making meant in our tradition and our spiritual lives. Our group included a few accomplished weavers and their expert appreciation of the artisans’ work and peer-to-peer conversations added depth to the experience.

The artisan groups are true partners with MayaWorks and Mayan Hands, not dependents. They set their own prices, choose their leaders, and manage their production. The skills required for these aspects of the work improve their personal and community lives as well. One of my favorite experiences was watching a group presenting their own new kippah designs for the first time. The designs were imaginative and appealing. As each woman who created a design was identified, the entire group applauded and celebrated her work; it was spontaneous and heartfelt.

One man in San Marcos, Bruno, spoke of giving up intermittent work as a day laborer and learning traditional crochet. Once he was good enough to join the artisan group he had steady work and enough money to send his children to school; that wasn’t possible on day labor wages.

This was perhaps the most common refrain we heard – making enough money to send their children to school. Every community voiced this as a priority and benefit of their involvement with the artisan group. In this part of the world, even a few years of education makes a difference and every additional year counts for a lot.

In the end, the biggest inspiration of the trip was the simple transformation of the artisans and their communities from poster-child simplicity to real, three dimensional people. As FTJ’s Chief Technology Maven, most of my work is well behind the scenes and away from the action. This trip gave me a real sense of the impact our work is having on so many lives. Please join us!