How FTJ Helped Enhance Jewish Cultural Programming

huc-group-photoThanks to Simon Stratford* at HUC-JIR who organized this amazing event, and introduced Fair Trade Judaica to 16 rabbinical students.

In November 2016, a group of fifteen Jewish college students from across the country – and one from Guatemala – arrived on the campus of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati to celebrate Shabbat and explore Jewish culture. This weekend retreat was just one of many throughout the academic year, hosted by the National Office of Recruitment and Admissions of HUC-JIR. Our high school and college retreats afford Jewish students opportunities to engage with like-minded peers on topics of interest, learn about themselves and from others how Judaism can inform their decisions, all the while creating a welcoming and caring community with whom to celebrate Shabbat. The weekend was a success, and all participants reported having had an excellent time. One facet of the weekend that stuck out to many people, my self included, was the decision to incorporate Fair Trade Judaica into part of our college Retreat, Tapestry of Jewish Culture.

Students had the opportunity to explore the meaning of Jewish culture through the lens of art, music, food, television, humor and Jewish text. Not too long into the first night’s programming did the group realize, that the breadth of Jewish culture is immense. As a result, weekend programming was designed to highlight various forms of Jewish culture and avenues through which students could engage with Jewish culture. Our staff intentionally designed programs to be adopted by student participants and adapted to fit the needs of the community in which they lead. The highlight of the weekend’s programming came on Sunday morning when we introduced students to Fair Trade Judaica, its organizational mission, and products.

Including a learning piece about Fair Trade Judaica allowed participants to learn about a particular organization whose work embodies Jewish culture in more ways than one. More than promoting Jewish culture by offering artisan made ritual and holiday items such as, kippot, mezuzot, challah covers and Shabbat candle holders; Fair Trade Judaica enables us to embrace Jewish culture by supplying artisan made ritual and holiday items that emphasize fair value return, environmental sustainability, human and workers’ rights. The values and principles embedded within the fair-trade movement and the work of Fair Trade Judaica is inherently Jewish.

Participants of our college retreat were pleasantly surprised to have been given a Fair Trade Judaica product to take home. Moreover, each participant was eager to learn more about the organization and brainstorm when they could bring Fair Trade Judaica products to their college communities. Including Fair Trade Judaica to the content of programming on Jewish culture provided a unique perspective on how the fair trade movement complements Jewish culture.

* Simon Stratford is a fifth-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati and has served as a rabbinic intern at the National Office of Recruitment and Admissions for two years. He is an ally of the fair trade and sustainability movements and a strong proponent of experiential and values-based education. He works to incorporate these platforms in planning and facilitating high school and college retreats for the College-Institute.

For more information regarding HUC-JIR Leadership Retreats for high school, college students, or young professionals check out: or call our office at (513) 487-3200