Archive - June 2016

Fair Trade Shabbat Drash by Carole Baden

Carole BadenHope you’ll be as inspired, as we are, by this drash delivered by Carole Baden, on Fair Trade Shabbat 2016.  Carole is a long-time member of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA, currently serving on the Board of Directors.

Shabbat Shalom.

In today’s parshah, Kedoshim (“Holiness”) G-d prescribes proper behavior for the Jewish people; not just in terms of formally “holy” activities where human beings connect with the Divine Presence — such as religious ritual — but in every area of daily activity. We find some of these laws to be hurtful and inapplicable to contemporary life, like many of the proscriptions on sexual behavior, or simply incomprehensible (be sure not to trim your beard to a greater extent than you would harvest the expanse of your field). But many of them serve as a useful guide.

In fact, many of them are a grown-up version of what is written in “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”: Treat other people, even strangers, as though they are as important as you are. Share the necessities of life with those in need. Share the things that are valuable to you. (This is the implication of the injunction not to harvest your fruit, even for sacrifice, until the fourth year, because that is the first year the fruit is of good quality.) Don’t cheat; be honest and play fair. The greater part of holy behavior involves us acting like people with functioning superegos who can look beyond their own needs and desires.

This is a pretty good introduction to Fair Trade Shabbat, the officially Jewish version of World Fair Trade Day, which has been commemorated by an association of Fair Trade organizations since 2001.

What is fair trade? In the words of the original Fair Trade Day organizers, fair trade makes “a tangible contribution to the fight against poverty and exploitation, climate change, and the economic crises that have the greatest impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations.” Many farmers and other workers in developing nations lack access to the markets where commodities are sold, which means they are easily exploited by middlemen who buy their goods for far less than they are worth on the open market. They are also vulnerable to fluctuations in global commodity prices that can make it impossible to support themselves and their families.

Fair trade standards include setting stable and sustainable prices for producers, offering technical support to increase profitability and sustainability, and adding a premium to the finished product to contribute to social, environmental, and organizational improvement projects (which often include social goods like medical clinics and schools.) Having access to sustainable prices allows producers to plan for the future, instead of only being able to focus on their day-to-day survival.

Hundreds of fair trade-certified organizations around the world, often organized into cooperatives, produce commodity products like chocolate, coffee, tea, bananas, and cotton; fresh flowers; handicrafts, including Judaica; and even soccer balls. Independent certification organizations here in the United States and around the world audit fair trade producers to ensure that they meet these standards.

Fair trade standards also include an explicit prohibition on child labor. The exploitation of children’s labor is a particularly egregious issue on cacao farms in five African nations, including Cote d’Ivoire, which produces 40% of the world’s cocoa supply. Children as young as five years old have been documented working in conditions that include exposure to hazardous pesticides, the use of sharp, dangerous tools, and heavy labor that results in injury. They are often kept in the conditions of slavery and separated from their families. Manufacturers of chocolate ignore the problem, because the low prices supported by exploited labor allows them to feed the insatiable worldwide demand for low-cost chocolate products at artificially low prices. Our own Fair Trade Group here at Netivot Shalom has worked for many years to educate our congregation and the larger community on the importance of consuming slavery-free chocolate (particularly during Pesach) as well as supporting other fair trade goods.

What makes fair trade so aligned with Jewish values? All we need to do is look at our parshah. Chapter 19, verse 13 in Kedoshim states, Lo-taʽashok et reʽacha velo tigzol lo-talin peulat sakhir itcha ad-boker (“Do not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning”).  Deuteronomy 24:15 strengthens this idea of the connection between withheld wages and oppressive behavior (“You must pay him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and urgently depends on it; else he will cry out to G-d against you and you will incur guilt.”). Nachmanides comments on both verses to point out the necessity for workers to receive timely pay to support themselves and their families.

Deuteronomy 24:14 expresses the command of ethical behavior toward all workers, not just other Jews: Lo-taʽashok sakhir ʽani ve’evyon meahchecha o migercha asher beartzecha bishʽarecha (“You shall not abuse a needy and destitute worker, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land”). Not that we necessarily need a proof text. Since the end of the 19th century, Jewish workers in the United States (building on the work of Jewish guild and labor organizers in Eastern Europe) have advocated for safe working conditions and fair wages for all workers.

While holy behavior is possible in all aspects of daily life, it is not easy to achieve (which is probably a large part of what makes it holy). I recently thought about all the ways I have consumed non-fair trade (“cheap”) chocolate without really thinking about it. Ice cream from the grocery store. Two of my favorite kinds of Girl Scout cookies, which I sold assiduously back in the day. Hot chocolate from the vending machine, and chocolates from the candy jar at work. Then there are other things we think we can’t do without: clothing (inexpensive and not-so-inexpensive), electronics, morning coffee. It is easy to become enmeshed in systems that we wouldn’t accept if we fully considered them.

In her commentary on Kedoshim, Nehama Liebowitz cites a rabbinic teaching that holiness equals separation, and then quotes a clarification by Buber, “God is the absolute authority over the world because He is separate from it and transcends it but He is not withdrawn from it. Israel must — in imitating God by being a holy nation — similarly not withdraw from the world of the nations but rather radiate a positive influence on them through every aspect of Jewish living.”

To avoid participating in the easy, to reconsider our consumption choices in ethical terms, is a form of separation and transcendence. To then engage with the world and refuse to participate in oppressive systems while advocating for justice is another definition of holiness.

The Talmud affirms that the declaration in Exodus 20:9 that people work for six days is a distinct commandment with the same weight as the one to rest on the seventh day. The labor of human beings is paralleled with that of G-d; like G-d, people are to work for six days and rest on the seventh. Hard work is holy.

In The Book of Blessings, Marcia Falk expands this idea by stating:

“If to honor the Sabbath is to honor being itself – the being of all creation – to honor the weekday and its work is to honor our doing in the world. It is during the week that we work to effect change, and thus, we might say, it is during the week that we strive to bring about redemption.”

The holiness of the labor of others should be met by equal holiness by us when we benefit from it. Society conditions us to think that consumer goods should be easily and affordably available to us – whenever and wherever we crave them — but if they involve the exploitation of others, the price is too high.

Parshat Kedoshim enjoins moral behavior on the Jews not just as individuals, but as a holy community. At Netivot Shalom, we have committed ourselves to a number of ethical practices, including doing our part to protect the environment, standing against gun violence, supporting Black Lives Matter and the LGBT community, committing to the use of fair trade food products — such as coffee and chocolate — when we prepare Kiddush, and giving ethically-produced gifts to our b’nai mitzvot (in the form of a fair trade yad). May we continue to strengthen our role in supporting fair trade and fair labor practices as individuals and as a community.

SECRET PAIN By Rabbi Elliot Salo Schoenberg

child and cocoaA poor man came to visit Rav Joseph Baer the great grandfather of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik just before Passover. He had a question of Jewish law, “I cannot afford to buy wine, if I drink four cups of milk do I fulfill the obligation to drink the four cups of wine?” The rabbi quickly responded ‘No’ and gave him 25 rubles with which to buy wine. Surprised, the rabbi’s wife inquired, “Wine for his Seder would at most cost 3 rubles, why did you give him so much, 25 rubles?” “This poor man had a secret he did not share with us. His secret pain was he did not have enough money to buy chicken and matzah, as well as wine.” The wife asked, “And how do you know this?” The rabbi responded, “Because he would never mix meat with milk. I gave him money to buy the food he needed to make a proper Seder.”

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik saw the secret pain of this poor man. (From The Night that Unites: Passover Haggadah edited by Aaron Goldheider). This week’s Torah reading is Parshat Kedoshim which includes the famous verse, Leviticus 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow man as yourself: I am the Lord.” You all know Hillel’s famous statement, “The rest is commentary, now go study the commentary.” Rashi comments, “The Tanna Rabbi Akiba said, ‘This is a great rule in the Torah.’” On this critical verse, let us see what is added by Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov (1745–1807). Reb Moshe was in a saloon where he overheard the conversation of two patrons who were drinking and overeating, and then each gave the other a big hug. “Do you really love me?” the other replied, “But of course.” The first responded, “How can that be if you do not know my secret pain?” Reb Moshe then revealed the deeper meaning of our verse, “You cannot really love another if you do not know their secret pain.”

This is a beautiful bar of chocolate. What do you see? What associations do you have with chocolate? Growing up for Cathy, my wife, if it wasn’t chocolate, it wasn’t dessert. She especially remembers her Aunt Lois’ amazing chocolate cakes. When our boys were young, after they shoveled the snow from our driveway, their reward was hot chocolate with whipped cream. I knew I was welcomed into Cathy’s family when I came for my first visit and received a gift-wrapped package of Frango Chocolate Mints from Marshall Fields. For all of Cathy’s family get togethers, whoever was hosting would buy Cora Lee handmade Chocolates. One year a cousin pushed in the bottoms on every chocolate to make sure she got the filling she wanted.

Now let me tell you about the secret pain that you do not see inside this bar of chocolate, your favorite hot chocolate, or that handmade bonbon. The cocoa industry has over a hundred year history of being investigated for child labor/slavery violations. In 1905 an investigative report appeared in Harper’s Bazaar documenting the use of slavery on the Portuguese island of Sao Tome. It took years before Cadbury (originally founded by Quakers), which contributed funds to anti-slavery programs at home in England, ceased using slaves on the island. One hundred years later the slavery continues. Almost half of the world’s cocoa is sourced from the Ivory Coast. There are 48,000 small farms.

Many of the laborers are children tricked into coming to earn money for their families. Other children are kidnapped in nearby Mali and Burkina Faso and trafficked over the border on motorbikes. The children, ages 10-16, work 10-12 hours a day; they are rarely paid and certainly do not go to school. They are beaten so they are afraid to escape, and perform dangerous tasks like cutting the cocoa pods down with larger machetes. Companies like Nestle’s and Hershey’s do not deny that they buy from bulk resellers not directly from the farmers, so there is little they can do. They also point out that the Ivory Coast has laws against child labor, and they are not responsible for enforcing that nation’s laws. My friends, there is a secret pain every time we bite into a bar of chocolate, sip hot chocolate or eat a Hershey’s Kiss. What we are enjoying is the product of child slaves.

What can we do? Let me suggest three things to make visible the secret pain of chocolate.

  • Get informed. Be educated. I recommend the 56 minute documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate. Learn about the international movement of Fair Trade.
  • Buy ethically sourced chocolate, including fair trade certified brands.
  • Make your synagogue into a Fair Trade synagogue. Join the campaign. Every Shabbat, on our bimah, our rabbi hands each child a small piece of chocolate to teach that the Torah is sweet. He hand delivers sweet and ethically sourced Fair Trade chocolate bits. Let us return to the famous verse, Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.”

R’ Naftali Zvi Horowitz, the Ropshitzer Rebbe (1760-1827), was a Hasidic Rebbe to thousands; he was known for teaching that one must always be ready to pray. When he was in heder learning at an early age his teacher taught him that when the Hebrew letter yod appears twice in a text side-by-side those two letters spell the name of God. One day the young Naftali came to his teacher with what he thought was the name of God. He was mistaken. He showed him the Hebrew vowel sheva. Two dots one on top of the other, not side-by-side. “See here is the name of God.” The teacher responded, “No, my son. The name of God is when two yods are side-by-side, but here this one on top of the other, this is a sheva, the sound of nothing.” Rabbi Naftali would later teach the simple meaning of this verse, ‘Love your fellow as yourself’ means when two people stand by his side, in one row, then, Ani Adonai, God is present.”

My dear friends, it is time to stand side-by-side by the child laborers of West Africa. My dear friends it is time to see the secret pain of others, then God is truly present in our lives. Amen

** Rabbi Elliot Salo Schoenberg is the Associate Executive Director and International Director of Placement at the Rabbinical Assembly. This is a copy of the sermon he will be giving on Fair Trade Shabbat 2016.

Purim and Fair Trade Chocolate

Beth El logoWhy Does the  Chocolate Say “Equal Exchange”?  by Rabbi Michael Rothbaum,  Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA

The Youth and Family Education Program bought chocolate for today’s Purim fun from a company whose chocolate is what’s called “Fair Trade.”

It means the cocoa growers have been paid fairly, that working conditions for the growers were healthy and safe, and that it was made in a way that was good for the earth.

It is a mitzvah (“obligation”) in Judaism that workers be paid fairly and on time. Oppression of workers is forbidden:

Do not oppress a worker that is poor and needy, whether one of your people, or of your immigrants that are in your land, within your gates.

Give him his wage on the day he earns it; the sun should not go down upon it; for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it . . . .(Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

Jews are prohibited from activity designated as mesaya l’yiday ovrei aveira“association for the purpose of committing a sin.” If we know someone is engaged in unethical behavior, we are not allowed to assist such a person, even if they could have accomplished it without our help.

Being oppressive and cruel to workers is clearly prohibited by Judaism. We at YAFE seek to support those companies that treat their workers fairly – especially on Purim, a time that’s supposed to be fun for everyone.

Highlights from our Guatemala Trip

Felter with mobileWe returned less than a week ago from an absolutely fabulous trip to Guatemala, with an amazing group of smart, talented, and creative people.  It was a delight sharing our experiences!

Some of the trip highlights:

  • Meeting again with MayaWork’s Santiago group of crocheters who are  designing their own kippot!  Several were selected to go into production this year, including a new 7 Species one!
  • Visiting a new group of Mayan Hands’ felters who had a sample of a new hamsah and dove hanging mobile ready for us to review
  • Hearing from Brenda Rosenbaum how she founded Mayan Hands, and watching her joyful reunion with her pine basket makers after five years

Spending Shabbat morning with Adat Israel, the Reform community in Guatemala.  One of my favorite communities with whom to davven!

Being overwhelmed by the colors in the Chichicastenango Market

Spending time on beautiful Lake Atitlan

Watching volcanoes blow!

Eating all the homemade tortillas, papaya, pineapple, and black beans that we wanted to eat!

and, always, being inspired by the artisans who make such beautify from such challenging lives.  They work hard so their children can have better lives.

For a more comprehensive daily review, Dina Tanners, one of our great trip participants, has done an amazing job of capturing both the experience and learning from our recently concluded FTJ Guatemala Trip!  Dina is a retired ESL teacher, living in Seattle, and enjoying her world wide travels.  She is the volunteer librarian at Congregation Beth Shalom, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue .

Here is her post on visiting a local school supported by MayaWorks, Aqua Caliente weavers and Lila Carmen who makes MayaWorks’ tallitot.

And, visiting basket makers and San Antonio Agua Caliente outside of Antigua.

Keep checking back on her website for more updates.

Adat Israel group



Tell Elite/Strauss to go Fair Trade for Passover

Fair Trade Judaica first raised the issue of fair trade chocolate, child labor and Pesach in the Jewish community in 2011, inspired/outraged by “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD.  We launched a Fair Trade Kosher for Passover Petition encouraging a kosher chocolate company (in general) to begin sourcing fair trade cocoa beans, and received over 1,000 signatures in just a few months; you can find many comments here.  While we have not yet been able to get a kosher company to go fair trade, we were able to get a Rabbinic ruling that Equal Exchange’s non-dairy chocolate was “Kosher for Passover”, so we could finally eat child slave labor free chocolate on Pesach.

Just a few months ago we were lucky to connect with Ashira Abramowitz, a young woman, living in Israel, who was so inspired by this issue that she dedicated her Bat Mitzvah to encouraging The Strauss Group who produces Elite chocolate, to start sourcing fair trade cocoa beans.  Fair Trade Judaica is excited to support Ashira’s project – Please read her statement below, sign her petition on, and tell Elite that you want fair trade Kosher for Passover chocolate!

Ashira’s Statement

Ashira AbramowitzEvery year when we have our Passover seders we remember that we were slaves and then we were free. Is this just a history lesson? An excuse to have a weird party? To me, the important purpose of Passover is to remember our own slavery so that we can have empathy for the people who still suffer under the oppression of others. My name is Ashira . I am 12 years old and I just had my bat mitzvah. Other kids my age, and even younger, are slaves. The irony is that their slavery produces chocolate, which gives lucky kids like me treats. Israel is a Jewish state and as such we should never, ever profit or reap enjoyment from other people’s suffering. So I call on the biggest chocolate company in Israel, Strauss, to only sell fair trade chocolate starting by Passover. Please sign the petition – not to boycott Strauss, but to call on them to go 100% Fair Trade by Passover.

Sign Ashira’s petition: Israeli chocolate company, Elite, should sell slave-free, Fair Trade chocolate for Passover.