The Torah of Tapestry in Guatemala
By Rabbi Bennett F. Miller
Recently, I joined a group mission to Guatemala, sponsored by Maya Works and Fair Trade Judaica. The mission was a very powerful experience, meeting with the Jewish community and with some remarkable
Maya women who perform extraordinary work with the gift of their hands and hearts.
On Shabbat morning I was asked to deliver words of Torah in the small but young and energetic Reform Temple in Guatemala City known as Adat Yisrael. (a few weeks later they would receive a Torah scroll given to them by a congregation in Pine Bluff Arkansas that had closed its doors and wanted the Torah to be welcomed by a young congregation). My words preceded the chanting of the week’s Torah portion which happened to be parashat B’shalach, consisting of the powerful words of
the Song of Sea, the poetic words of Moses as he and the Israelites walked through the Red Sea to Freedom, to begin their journey to the Promised Land of Israel.
As I looked at the words inscribed on the Torah scroll I could not help but see each letter as part of a tapestry similar to that woven by the many women we had met earlier in the week. The letters of the Torah appeared to me like every line of yarn woven into the fabric that the women were creating.
Thinking about it I found myself deeply moved by each of the thousands of letters inscribed on the parchment of the Torah. As each letter is joined to others words are formed into sentences that describe a picture of a journey of the Jewish people. This story is the most profound story in the history of humankind, a story of a people and its encounter with the Divine, choosing and being chosen to carry out a mission of becoming “a light unto the nations.” As each stretch of yarn is applied to the loom it forms a connection to the one before it and the one that will be applied following it. Some of the yarn is colored and some is not. Somehow, the artisan who works the loom understands and sees the larger picture that will be completed after all of the yarn has been applied to the loom. Like the words of Torah, the yarn in the loom represents lines (words)
that drawn together will form a tapestry depicting a journey of its own, similar to the journey of the Jewish people. Each artisan that I met represented a village or a family or a Mayan group (they speak no less than 26 languages in Guatemala). And each piece created on the loom, or prepared lovingly by the hands of the women I met becomes part of a liberating experience. You see, the work of these amazing women provides food for their family’s table, funds for their children to attend school (even college), and helps them sustain a simple but noble life in central America.
You might say that the work of the hands of the Mayan women serves as a song of freedom just as the Torah’s words uttered by Moses and the Israelites was the song declaring freedom from Egyptian oppression, a song that we continue to sing, not just for the Jewish people but for all people who yearn to be free.
I concluded my words and then we chanted the words of Torah. As I looked out into the congregation I could feel the power of liberation, the same power that our ancestors felt. And I could see tears of joy, remembering the women we had met, sitting with the young people of the congregation who were thrilled to celebrate Jewish life, and recognizing that freedom is a dream for all, a dream that can become a reality if we put our minds and our hearts and our hands together to do so.
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: www.huc.edu/explore or call our office at (513) 487-3200
Hope 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.
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.
A 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.
Why 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.
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.
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 change.org, and tell Elite that you want fair trade Kosher for Passover chocolate!
Every 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.
From Strawberry Soup to a Chocolate Fountain: Fair Trade Shabbat Confirmation by Rabbi Robin Damsky, West Suburban Temple Har Zion
This past Shabbat was our confirmation. Each year I work with the tenth and eleventh grade classes with a special educational focus to prepare them for this day. The study is always social justice connected, but the topic and actions are up to the students. Last year each student engaged in an individual project, but this year the class wanted to participate in one topic together. The teens suggested a fair number of really terrific areas of concentration, and ultimately, they chose food. As in the words of one of our confirmands, Ben Srajer, “Everyone has to eat, right?”
Food shortage, overpopulation, genetically modified organisms, the threat of extinction of bees, shmittah, organics… these were some of the teens’ topics. As part of their project, they wanted to prepare an organic meal for Confirmation Shabbat. As time unfolded, we discovered that the Rabbinical Assembly was partnering with Fair Trade Judaica for a Fair Trade Shabbat on this very day! Wow. I brought this information to the students, and with a few adjustments, they tailored their day to this topic.
Some of the research was re-directed to include the history of fair trade and where it stands today, as well as how it serves those engaged in fair trade production, and how and why it is a Jewish issue. That was the easy part.
The menu needed to be changed. That was a bit more demanding. What began as an organic menu of foods from the various cultural backgrounds of our students – including Israel, Egypt, Serbia, and the Philippines as well as the good old USA –needed to be tweaked. Fair trade eggs and cheese? We were told they didn’t exist. Fish? Same thing. While we did use some ingredients that weren’t fair trade, the students re-directed the menu to include strawberry soup (both a dairy and vegan version), gazpacho, a chocolate fountain with fair trade fruits to dip, fair trade coffee and iced teas. Well more than 60% of our ingredients were fair trade. We took the fair trade labels off the fruits and clipped them from the boxes and laid them on the tables at Kiddush lunch for people to see and learn. We even found fair trade flowers to give to the confirmands.
I had a number of comments from the congregation about the level of presentation of the students, as well as how much they learned about fair trade in specific and food justice in general. Perhaps what made the biggest impact was the meal. It was exquisitely made and with fine, fair trade and organic ingredients. People learned that fair trade means more than coffee and chocolate, and that there are local stores in which to buy a wide variety of products that include food and non-food items.
Challenges? One. Really, just one. That was that not all of the packaged fair trade products had a hekhsher. For our synagogue, while produce is fine, packaged products need to have a hekhsher. That meant that we couldn’t bring certain items into our shul. Perhaps this is an area in which Fair Trade Judaica can continue to rally support.
It was a very successful Shabbat that I think people would enjoy sharing again in the future, and learning more about over time. People had fun, ate well, lived their values of tikkun olam and came away with new insights. We hope to learn next year’s date soon so we can communicate it early to our congregation.
Todah rabbah to Fair Trade Judaica and the Rabbinical Assembly for organizing this great Shabbat.
Rabbi Robin Damsky
West Suburban Temple Har Zion
Coffee is something near and dear to my heart. From that first cup in the morning, to the mug I dawdle over while chatting with a friend, to the shots of espresso that keep me awake during late night study sessions. Coffee is a necessary and beloved part of my life.
Judaism gives me the tools to turn those necessary and beloved parts of my life into holy acts. With kashrut and blessings before and after, I can make sure that I imbue even seemingly secular acts with a holy sanctity. But in the case of coffee, drinking a kosher cup isn’t quite enough. In order to really transform this act into a holy deed, I need to make sure that my indulgence doesn’t harm the wellbeing of others.
I was first introduced to fair trade, fittingly enough, in a Jewish context. As a high school student in a Jewish school, one of my rabbis sent the class a website that could “calculate” how many slaves we had working for us based on our consumer habits. That day spurred a revolution in my own thinking. How could I sit at the Passover seder and ask an empty doorway to send those who were hungry to come and eat while the coffee I had drunk that very morning was facilitating slavery?
Thankfully, I was left with more than just questions, I had answers. By buying fair trade coffee, I could ensure that the coffee that I so cherish actively helps to lift up the men and women who grow and harvest it.
The Jewish community has an amazing opportunity before us. With the amount of coffee that we purchase, we can make a huge and concrete difference in people’s lives. That’s why I want synagogues to sign a pledge committing to only buying fair trade certified coffee. Let’s all work together to elevate this common act into a holy one.
I have been so lucky to find amazing partners in Fair Trade Judaica and T’ruah, as well as unbelievable rabbis and teachers at Ziegler who are able to see every daf of Talmud and every halakhah as a means to opening our hearts to the people and the world around us. All of us are united in our belief that Judaism invites us and demands us to connect with God through our ability to see and connect with one another.
How fitting that this week’s parsha is Mishpatim. We have just received the Ten Commandments and what is the very next thing we learn? How to treat the people, the animals, and the land around us. Human rights is not peripheral to Judaism, it is the very essence of who we are as a people.
Together with Jewish communities everywhere, we have the ability to transform our relationship as a Jewish people to the products we purchase and the men and women who produce them. By taking the Fair Trade Coffee Pledge, a synagogue is taking a stand that starting with coffee, the products that we serve to bring us together as a community, will no longer keep people down, but will raise them up in dignity. Join the movement!
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
T’ruah Summer Fellow in Human Rights, ’14
As Chanukah draws near (Tuesday evening, 12/16), we remember and celebrate the ancient victory of the Maccabees, restoring the Temple and our freedom to worship there. It inspires us to think of contemporary issues of freedom and liberation in general. The word “Chanukah” itself means “dedication”, so perhaps this holiday is a time to re-dedicate ourselves to seeking freedom/liberation for those who are unable to do so for themselves.
When I first learned about the issue of trafficked child labor in the cocoa fields, I immediately thought of the gelt that I’ve eaten every Chanukah since I was a young girl. The sweetness of its taste in my mouth while playing dreidel is deeply embedded in my memory. Now I was being introduced to its true bitter-sweet character.
Today, young children are trafficked and forced into working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where more than half the world’s cocoa is grown. Many have been kidnapped from surrounding countries and brought to the Ivory Coast against their will. They are forced to work long hours, often without pay; they do not receive any education. Their work involves hazardous chemicals and pesticides, and the dangerous use of machetes.
The gelt we eat on Chanukah is a reminder of the freedom our people won many years ago. There is a choice that leans towards freedom – Fair trade certification prohibits the use of child labor.
The Talmud teaches that we don’t rely on miracles (Kiddushin 39b); we must take action ourselves to bring about redemption. On Chanukah, we celebrate the miracles of ages past, and we strengthen our resolve to make miracles happen today. Choosing Fair Trade Chanukah gelt moves us a step closer towards ending child labor and modern slavery around the world.
Here is a kavannah to enjoy with your fair trade gelt (Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California):
“I hold more than chocolate in my hand. This product I have purchased is a mixture of bitter and sweet flavors, but it contains no taste of slavery. As Chanukah is an eight-day reminder that light can penetrate darkness, may this experience of tasting sweet freedom, the bounty of free people’s work, inspire me to add more light to the world”.
You can find fair trade gelt and free resources for Chanukah on Fair Trade Judaica’s website.
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (keep some handy for your work surface)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or peanut oil
1/4 cup raspberry jam
1/4 cup Divine 70% Bittersweet or Milk Chocolate
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. In a large metal bowl, stir together warm water and yeast. Let stand until foamy, around 5-7 minutes.
2. Add 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt; mix until well combined. Add egg yolks and remaining 1 3/4 cups flour and vanilla extract. Mix until combined, then knead dough in bowl. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead a few minutes until smooth. Knead in butter.
3. Transfer dough to a well-oiled bowl; turn dough several times to coat entirely with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
4. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to form doughnuts, remove dough from refrigerator to come to room temperature. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough into an 11 inch square about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 2 inch cookie cutter (or a glass), cut out about 24 rounds, dipping cutter in flour as needed to prevent sticking. Re-roll scraps and cut out about 16 more rounds.
5. Line a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg whites. Brush edge of a dough round with egg white, then mount 1/2 teaspoon jam or chocolate bar pieces in center, or both. Top with another round and press edges to seal. Repeat process with remaining rounds. Transfer to prepared baking sheet; let doughnuts rise until puffy, 20 to 30 minutes.
6. Heat a few inches of oil in a large (4-5 quart) heavy pot until it registers 360 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer or a scrap of dough sizzles upon contact. Working in batches of 4 to 5, carefully slip doughnuts into hot oil. Fry, turning once until golden brown, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to paper towels to drain.
7. Place remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl. While doughnuts are still hot, toss them in sugar, turning to coat. Serve immediately.
*** Developed by New York City pastry chef Keyin Fulford, inspired by a recipe from “Peace, Love and Chocolate”. Recipe reprinted from Divine Chocolate website
Guest post by Teri Jedeikin who organized a Fair Trade Shabbaton in Baltimore
Last week we celebrated Shavuot, the festival of harvesting and receiving. Shavuot’s major narrative is the giving and receiving of the Torah which emulates the ultimate act of reciprocity and contractual relationship: a covenant of holiness. The book of Ruth that we also read on this Chag Hakatzir, has been a long time favourite of mine and was the first text that resonated with my understanding of Fair Trade principles. In this story we learn about how to treat the stranger with respect and compassion. We cherish the relationship of Naomi and Ruth; two women seeking a means of empowerment and survival in a patriarchal society, who are loyal to each other despite their cultural differences. Moreover, the megillah also highlights how agricultural/commercial practices are interwoven with social welfare obligations; with justice and integrity as guided by the Torah.
Leading up to this special time, somewhere in the liminal “midbar” between Pesach and Shavuot, I was privileged to enjoy an oasis of Fair Trade Judaica nourishment. May 10th was World Fair Trade Day and Fair Trade Judaica scattered the seeds of Fair Trade Shabbat consciousness throughout the country. In Baltimore, our seeds germinated with the enthusiasm of individuals like Regina Mosenkis, Andrea Grinberg and Laura Menyuk, who in turn engaged many members of their local communities. Participants informally represented a number of Jewish organizations including Moishe House Without Walls, The Pearlstone Center and Repair The World.
I first heard about Fair Trade Shabbat during FTJ’s incredible expedition into the world of Guatemalan Fair Trade Judaica creations. There, Ilana Schatz shared her vision of an annual World Trade Day Jewish involvement that could grow organically with the development of Jewish Fair Trade awareness. For me, a Shabbaton is the ideal showcase for Fair Trade support as it combines opportunities for sensual, experiential and intellectual learning. Our program was rich with topics like Faith and Fair Trade, Our Food Our Right and Fair Trade from the Business/Buyer’s Perspective. The Torah portion, Parashat Behar, also yielded deep insights into the concept of Shmitah (The sabbatical year) a hot topic in light of the upcoming Shmitah year commencing September 2014.
However, Judaism does not stand on intellectual study alone and we were inspired to weave Fair Trade appreciation into a multitude of sensual experiences from singing a Social Justice inspired Kabbalat Shabbat to feasting to beautifying our holy space. Guests were asked to include at least one fair trade ingredient in the food they shared at our potluck Friday night dinner. Regina delighted us the next day with her cooking and a selection of Fair Trade chocolate and ice cream treats generously sponsored by a Moishe House grant. Casey McKeel from Thread Coffee kept us awake and engaged with her artisanal cold brew coffee. I decorated the Shabbat table with a plethora of Judaica and table-ware from South Africa (African Home empowerment project) and Guatemala (MayaWorks and Mayan Hands associated projects). In addition, participants were invited to explore the world of fair trade shopping and appreciate the diversity of certified products in our Fair Trade Gift Exchange experiment.
Weaving Shabbat and Fair Trade consciousness was a powerful experience for me. It highlighted how boundaries between the sacred and secular are fluid when spiritual integrity is imbued into all practices. If a Shabbat gathering could provide the platform for supporting and recognizing work of Fair Trade organizations, then it is easy to recognize the divine threads that were woven into our social fabric at Sinai. For me at least, that is the revelation that I have been fortunate to glean from this special experience.
Guest blog post by Teri Jedeikin, a delightful participant on our 2014 trip to Guatemala. She really captured the lives and personalities of the Mayan fair trade artisans we visited. There was the excitement of designing new Judaica items while visiting the artisans; for example, we saw a beautiful woven scarf and yelled “that could be a tallit”! It is now in production. We heard stories about how having long term relationships with MayaWorks and Mayan Hands had improved their lives, and especially, that all the daughters were now getting an education.
Keep your eyes open for news about our 2015 trip!
With deep appreciation to Teri Jedeikin, for putting together this fun and educational slideshow about her experience, which first appeared on the ROI Community’s Blogpost page!
SHEHECHIYANU! We can finally eat chocolate on Passover that’s been certified not to have been made with trafficked child labor!
Chocolate Charoset Recipe (by Philip Gelb, vegan chef and caterer)
Mix all ingredients together. Let chill an hour before serving.
Why is this so important? Every Passover we gather as family and community, to celebrate our people’s freedom. We are obligated to tell the story of the Exodus, our journey from slavery to liberation. As we celebrate this freedom during Passover, we are compelled to reflect on how freedom continues to be elusive for other people. Our history of slavery awakens us to the plight of the stranger, and to the alarming occurrence of modern day trafficking and slavery. For how can we celebrate our freedom, without recognizing that so many individuals still have not obtained theirs?
There is much documented evidence about the role of trafficked child labor in the cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast and West Africa, where 40-50% of cocoa is grown and harvested. Hundreds of thousands of children work in the cocoa fields, many of whom are exposed to hazardous conditions where they:
- Spray pesticides and apply fertilizers without protective gear
- Use sharp tools, like machetes
- Sustain injuries from transporting heavy loads beyond permissible weight
- Do strenuous work like felling trees, and clearing and burning vegetation
But we don’t have to eat chocolate tainted by child labor, especially as we celebrate our people’s freedom on Pesach. We CAN CHOOSE to purchase chocolate from companies that certify their supply chains through Fair Trade monitoring and certification, committed to eliminating child labor.
And this year, we are able to celebrate with Fair Trade Kosher for Passover chocolate! Equal Exchange produces soy-free (lecithin-free) chocolate. Last year, Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University, gave a Rabbinic ruling that specific chocolates can be eaten on Passover, and this year, they are also included on the Conservative Movement Rabbinical Assembly’s Approved for Passover 5774 list.
The gift of freedom our people received generations ago bestows upon us the obligation and responsibility to work for the liberation of all people. How can we fully celebrate our freedom without acknowledging millions of people today who are still forced to work, thousands of them young children who work in cocoa fields to bring us our delicious chocolate? What better way than celebrate with a Chocolate Flavored Charoset?
Here’s a special reading for eating Fair Trade Kosher for Passover chocolate: Using mortar and bricks, the Jewish slaves built the pyramids. The charoset reminds us of the mortar, a symbol of unrewarded toil. We remember how our ancestors’ work enriched the Egyptians’ lives, and challenge ourselves to think about the ways that we currently benefit from exploited labor. Tonight we eat chocolate charoset to remember all the trafficked and enslaved children in the Ivory Coast who toil in the cocoa fields, harvesting the cocoa pods from which our favorite chocolates are made. For Jews, the descendants of slave laborers who build the pyramids, such profit should never be sweet. We eat charoset that is made with Fair Trade chocolate, the only chocolate that is free of child labor. We take the sweetness of this charoset as a symbol of resistance and the possibility of liberation for all.
This post was written for and published in “The Jew and Carrot Blog” in the Jewish Forward
Originally written for and published in The Jew and The Carrot
I’ve started noticing hamentaschen (recipe below!!) showing up in local bakeries, and it made me wonder if one of the reasons we say “Purim Sameach/Happy Purim” is because we know that we’ll be eating lots of hamentaschen, the traditional Eastern-European Purim dessert. This joyous day celebrates the repeal of the death decree against the Jewish inhabitants of ancient Persia (“They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”).
The word “hamantashen” is commonly known as a reference to Haman, the defeated enemy of the holiday. It turns out that there are many different interpretations of the word’s derivation:
- In Hebrew, they are called Oznei Haman, meaning “Haman’s ears”. This name may have come from the Midrash which says that when Haman entered the King’s treasury, he was bent over with shame and humiliation (literally with clipped ears).
- The word tasch means “pouch” or “pocket” in Germanic languages, so the reference may be to “Haman’s pockets”, symbolizing the money which Haman offered to King Ahasuerus in exchange for permission to destroy the Jews
- Another folk story is that Haman wore a three-cornered hat, thus its triangular shape.
- The original Yiddish word montashn, or the German word mohntaschen, both mean poppy seed-filled pockets or pouches; the name was then was transformed to Hamantaschen, likely by association with Haman
- Naked Archaeologist documentarian Simcha Jacobovici has shown the resemblance of hamantaschen to dice from the ancient Babylonian Royal Game of Ur, suggesting that the pastries are meant to symbolize the pyramidal shape of the dice cast by Haman in determining the day of destruction for the Jews.
Another big debate about hamentaschen is the type of dough they’re made from; one is thicker and more bread-like, and the other is thinner and more cookie-like.
And then, there’s the question of what to fill them with. The original Hamentaschen filling was made with poppy seeds. Others that I grew up with include prune, or a variety of fruit preserves or marmalade, including apricot and raspberry. In doing some research, I found that chocolate filled hamentaschen are popular in Israel! Seems like a tradition we should include here.
One of the deeper themes of Purim is that we are told to celebrate the holiday, and make it possible for those less fortunate to also join in the festivities. When we feast or send food packages, are the products we use harming or benefiting the workers? In many situations, those “less fortunate” are the people who grow the food we use to celebrate our holidays. They suffer from market-driven forces that pay them less than the food’s real value; they don’t have access to world markets and get taken advantage of by local distributors or large corporations; and prices on the world market fluctuate, so they can never be sure what price they’ll receive when it’s time to sell a crop.
Choosing fair trade chocolate and sugar for our Hamentaschen better assures that the farmer who grew the raw ingredients for those foods, has received a fair price; and therefore is more able to adequately provide for his/her family. Fair trade is based on the following principles:
- Farmers are guaranteed a fixed price that exceeds their production cost, even when the market rate falls below that
- They receive an extra fair trade premium per pound
- Trading relationships are long term and transparent, allowing producers to reduce costs, gain direct access to credit and international markets, and develop the business capacity necessary to successfully compete.
Here’s a link to find Fair Trade Kosher chocolate products.
Below is a recipe for Chocolate-Filled Hamentaschen by Ruth Reingold. Enjoy!
Chocolate Filling (for about 25-30 Hamantaschen)
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/3 cup brown sugar (look for Fair Trade certified products)
- 1 T. butter or cream cheese
- 1 T. milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla (look for Fair Trade certified products)
- 1 egg
Melt chocolate in microwave. Add sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla. Stir, and return to microwave very briefly, just to melt butter. Gradually, stir beaten egg into chocolate. Use this filling immediately before it hardens.
We 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.
NOT JUST A CUP OF COFFEE BUT A DAILY JEWISH CUP
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.
NOT JUST A CUP OF COFFEE BUT A KOSHER CUP.
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.
NOT JUST A CUP OF COFFEE BUT AN ANTI SEMITIC CUP
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.”
NOT JUST A CUP OF COFFEE BUT A JUST CUP OF COFFEE. a means to Tikkun Olam
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.
- NOT JUST A CUP OF COFFEE BUT A JUST CUP OF COFFEE
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.
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 (www.mayaworks.org), 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.
Now 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).
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.
This 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!
These companies produce fair trade sugar and/or vanilla:
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
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.
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.
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
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!
I just got off the phone from a most inspiring conversation with Zach Colton-Max who celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in October in South Orange, New Jersey. I know Zach and his family because they ordered kippot for his Bar Mitzvah – from recycled soda cans made by Fair Trade artisans in South Africa. But the real story began in the summer of 2011….
Zach attends Camp Naaleh in New York, sponsored by Habonim Dror. While the camp offers most of the usual summer camp activities (sports, crafts, hiking, Shabbat, etc.), they also focus on a particular social justice issue each summer. That summer session focused on the issue of unpaid labor – children and adults who work hard, and often in unsafe conditions, to make the products that we depend on. As a group, the campers decided with staff that they wanted the camp to find a new purveyor of t-shirts for them, made in a way that honored the workers.
Zach found himself deeply moved by the issue of child labor in all forms, from factories to prostitution. “I’ve always had the opportunity to live my life and do what I want, but so many kids have different lives. I know that if I was in their place and they knew about me, they would help me. It’s only right that I help them.”
Through his research, Zach heard about Free the Children, a nonprofit started by a 15 year old which is committed to freeing children and their families from the grip of poverty. He was inspired to make this the centerpiece of his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. In his Torah drash he says “I find that child labor is the most heart-breaking issue in the world right now. It upsets me personally, because kids like me and my brother and friends, kids are being forced to work – to help their parents economically, because they have to in order to survive. The working conditions are horrible – they work in sweatshops and dangerous situations. That isn’t even the worst part. These kids are caught in a horrible destructive cycle that traps them in a life with no hope of a better future.” Zach wore a kippa made by Fair Trade artisans and gave one as a present to all of the children who attended his Bar Mitzvah. The kippot were distributed in gift bags that said “Zach Sack – Choose fair. Children belong in schools, not factories and farms.” These cloth bags were also used for the hotel gift bags and were filled with Fair Trade chocolate, dried fruit and other goodies.
Zach’s message was also on display during the Bar Mitzvah luncheon. Different size glass vessels were filled with products that are harvested, picked, produced or manufactured by children under the age of fifteen. They included coffee, blueberries, cocoa, sugar cane, rice, and soccer balls. There was also a note explaining the centerpieces and suggesting that every guest should read labels and choose Fair Trade the next time they went shopping, as well as thanking Fair Trade Judaica for our support.
Zach is following his passion and pursuing this issue past his Bar Mitzvah. Along with two other students from his synagogue, they are organizing a soccer tournament to raise the issue of child labor used in the production of soccer balls. They are putting together an educational campaign, as well as talking with the park and recreation department and other local leaders to adopt a policy of only purchasing Fair Trade soccer balls, which are certified to be free of child labor.
Zach has noticed that his friends are now beginning to research where the products they buy come from – “If even one person starts buying Fair Trade, it will be tremendous and help a lot.” My guess is that Zach’s efforts will inspire some big changes, both in his home town and in the world.
October is Fair Trade Month, a great time to learn more about the positive impact of Fair Trade on farmers and artisans, and to make a stronger commitment to integrating Fair Trade into our daily lives.
I was inspired by this article by Jackie DeCarlo of Catholic Relief Services, who has been a fair trade advocate for a long time, and hope it will inspire you as well!
Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, an auspicious time to reflect on how our actions truly express our values. Choosing Fair Trade products, when they are available, is one powerful way to act on what is important to us. This year, by choosing Fair Trade honey, we can also sweeten the lives of the bee keepers who make it.
Here’s my guest blog published by Hazon’s “The Jew and Carrot” column in The Jewish Daily Forward.
The controversy continues to heat up! Here’s a comprehensive review that was recently published in “The Nation.”
We live in a world made up of stories.
When we’re young, we don’t really notice that even the objects around us have stories. We can probably all remember how, as children, we desperately wanted a particular cereal, toy, or computer game. We might also remember how it felt not to get what we wanted. But we probably didn’t ask ourselves about the story of that product – where it came from, how it was manufactured, how it made the journey from its place of origin to our living rooms.
It’s a sad fact of life that the ceremonies that mark the way stations of our lives have also been commercialized. At the time of Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the worry about decorations, centerpieces and invitation design can all but subsume the moment at which a young person takes their first steps into being counted as a member of the greater Jewish community. And while the gifts and money are exciting, Bar and Bat Mitzvah is a wonderful opportunity to remind the young person concerned that they have a heart and a conscience, and that everything has a story.
To become responsible for the mitzvot – which is the true heart of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah rite – means asking questions. What is the story of this object, and how am I part of that story? Where does this object come from? Do I really need it at all? Can I recycle it once I have had my use of it? In purchasing it, am I making the right choice?
In the spirit of reminding our young people of the goodness of their own hearts at this special moment in their lives, we give them the gift of a kippah that comes with a story. For this latest cycle, we have chosen to give them kippot made by Mayan Hands, together with a letter explaining the origins of the kippah and the community from which it came.
By doing this, we hope to remind them that they are part of a greater whole, a whole in which choices matter, stories matter, and in which they themselves can be agents for fairness, compassion and change.
What could be better? A gorgeous day with beautiful blue skies, great music and dancing, lots (and I means lots!) of friendly people, delicious food, and … an entire booth of fair trade made Judaica products! The kippot made from recycled soda cans in South Africa definitely brought out the most smiles and giggles! Thanks so much to Sue Bachman and Sandy Curtis for their fantastic help and great photos. Here are a few photos to share the fun.
Summer solstice is today and I’m already dreaming of my first s’more of the season!
One of my favorite memories as a child was practicing how to make the absolutely perfect s’more (marshmallow gooey but not burned, and getting it onto the graham cracker before it fell off) using a Hershey chocolate bar. But since I learned about forced child labor in the chocolate industry, it doesn’t sound very delicious anymore. Tens of thousands of children work in cocoa fields, exposed to hazardous conditions where they spray pesticides without protective gear, use sharp tools, and sustain injuries.
The GOOD news: There are lots of fair trade Kosher chocolates to choose from, and child labor is prohibited in Fair Trade certification.
There are several new Fair Trade Kosher chocolates that we’ve learned about this past year, including Tcho (an artisanal chocolate maker in San Francisco, new milk chocolate mini’s from Equal Exchange, and, finally, a real Fair Trade chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s (Belgian bars in dark or milk chocolate with the IMO “Fair for Life” certification).
Hershey’s is the only chocolate company in the U.S. which is not using any fair trade cocoa beans in its products. Join Fair Trade Judaica and the Jewish community in encouraging Hershey’s to support fair trade and child labor-free chooclate.
I’m looking forward to enjoying my first delicious Fair Trade s’more this weekend!
Fair Trade Judaica is excited to bring you this guest blog by Jesse Noily, 12 years old of Oakland, CA. He was introduced to our “Bean of Affliction: Chocolate, Child Labor, and Choosing Fair Trade” campaign at a friend’s Passover Seder. He decided to focus on this issue for a year-end report at school. After watching “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD and visiting a local fair trade chocolate company, he wrote this report and made a video (Coming soon!). If you’d like to watch or show the DVD, here’s a link to it and our screening guide:
BITTERSWEET – SLAVERY IN CHOCOLATE MAKING
By Jesse Noily
The Story of My Search
Chocolate. There is something so wonderful about it. Something so magically innocent about the milky, sweet Hershey’s bar. Or so I thought a couple weeks ago, when I first started this project. I hadn’t thought at all about where my chocolate came from. I had greedily eaten my heart out every Halloween, and on Valentine’s Day I nibbled away all the pink Reese’s and mini Nestle Crunch’s that had stuffed my valentine bag. And on my own valentines, I had carelessly put small Hershey’s bars, classic milk chocolate and dark with almonds, Krackel and Mr. Goodbar. But if I had known then what I know now I would have hated myself. I remember the day when I was first introduced to the idea of slaves making chocolate. It was Pesach (a Jewish holiday celebrating freedom), and we were celebrating with a Seder (traditional feast) at our friend’s house.
Now our friends are not…traditional Jews and so at the end of Seder, when the adults are supposed to give the kids a gift, they gave me two packages of some obscure chocolate. One was made by a company called TCHO the other by Alter Eco. They then explained (more to my parents then to me) that most chocolate made by big corporations like Hershey’s and Nestle are non fair-trade, meaning that the people who harvest the cacao are slaves, kidnapped from their families and forced to work. I ate the chocolate, liked it, and forgot about it for about a year. But when we were assigned to write a report on s social justice topic, it immediately sprang back to mind. I love chocolate and it angered me that people were actually smuggling children, forcing them to work, paying them from less than minimum wage to nothing, and if they don’t work, or if they ask for more pay, they could be severely beaten or worse. It angered me how all these companies had covered up these facts so well. But mostly it angered me that all this time I had eaten away at these inglorious goodies the whole twelve years I’ve been in this world, and have been clueless as to where the actual chocolate came from.
I started my search with my friend Nico. For our extension activity we wanted to do a movie together, so it would make sense to write about the same topic. When we first started researching, I thought it was going pretty easy. There were a lot of websites that had really useful information. A LOT of websites. But then suddenly it became obvious that all these websites and articles were saying pretty much the same thing. For a while I had the idea that wasn’t a lot to say about slavery in chocolate making. Then I realized I was only hitting the surface of my research. I went to the databases, and found some very interesting articles on kids protesting non fair-trade chocolate and boycotting Hershey’s and Nestle, and me and Nico watched a documentary called “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” about two documentarians who went undercover to a cacao plantation. Then I realized that this report was going to be a lot of fun.
What I Learned
For what I learned, I’d like to start with talk about how the whole chocolate making process works. First I’ll start with non-fair trade. What trafficking literally means is trading and smuggling something stolen. In this case, the stolen goods are children. Children are lured away by the traffickers. They are offered money or a new bike, and when the children come close enough to collect their prize, they are grabbed by the traffickers and forced onto their motorbikes. In some cases, the traffickers circle a group of children with their motorbikes, fighting over who gets the best child. When the children are on the motorbikes, the traffickers drive them along a secret dirt road to the Ivory Coast, where all the major cacao plantations are. The kids are sold to the trafficker gets out of there with his money. The child is then forced to work, usually getting paid nothing, and just fed a few scraps to keep them going. What the child does is go around all the trees to find cacao pods (big, ovalish, smooth, long gourd like buds) and cut them off the cacao trees (Mistrati). You may ask why they can’t just have a machine do all this work. Well, the reason why they can is because of the way the pods grow on the tree. They just pop out from the branches and trunk like a person with odd growths sticking out all over their body. So anyway these kids walk around with huge machetes all day, cutting off the pods and putting them in a huge pile. All day, everyday, no breaks, no rest. The cacao pods are then opened up by other workers. When you open a cacao pod, what comes out is this white, larva-ish, marshmallow-like goo pods. In side these liquidy shells are the cacao beans. The cacao beans, after being taken out of their pods, are then shipped to all the major companies, who then roast them, turn them into cocoa butter and cocoa mass. Then those two ingredients are mixed with vanilla, sugar, soy lecithin and milk to create an ordinary Hershey’s milk chocolate bar (For a Crunch bar just add rice crisps).
Now I’ll tell you the same process but with a fair trade company. For some companies, like TCHO, the CEOs actually go meet the people who make their chocolate. They make sure that their living is healthy, that they’re given enough to eat, and that all the worker are NOT slaves, and there are no children working either. They call this “going beyond fair trade.” The true definition of “fair trade” is that the trade is carried on legally and all the workers are paid a fair amount. You see, its not like all the big companies have their own separate plantations. Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars all buy their chocolate from the International Chocolate Company and the ICC buys their chocolate from all the small, unknown plantations that usually have child slaves working for them. But not TCHO. TCHO is making a point of making sure that the plantations where they buy their cacao from are fair trade. After being fermented at the plantation, it is then transported to their headquarters in San Francisco, where it is made into chocolate bars. That’s fair-trade. It is so simple.
Equal Exchange is a fair trade company that sells bananas, coffee, and of course, chocolate. To avoid trafficking, Equal Exchange actually buys from no plantations in Africa, where all the trafficking is (Evans). This may sound ridiculous to you, but the truth is that cacao trees are actually native to South America, but they can grow between twenty and thirty degrees of latitude from the Equator. You may be asking why all the companies don’t use fair-trade chocolate. I think the main reason is it’s just easier. There’s no international company for fair trade chocolate! The only way to sell fair trade chocolate is to make your own chocolate. Either that or use a different fair trade company’s chocolate, which is illegal. Another thing is it’s cheaper. The small plantations sell their cocoa beans to the ICC (International Chocolate Company) for maybe a dollar a pound. That makes it possible for the ICC to sell the beans to the companies for very little. Compare that to making several plantations of your own. Can you imagine how much that would cost? All this makes me admire fair trade companies even more. They could have saved a lot more money if they weren’t fair trade, but they decided to be instead. That decision is based on totally moral value.
This project was a lot of fun. As I was doing it, I felt a lot more like an investigator/rebel/detective than a school child doing a report. I had proof and statistics. I had interviews and phone calls. I was a reporter! I demanded the truth! I was determined to find the truth. It sounds cheesy, I know, but when there’s injustice in the world you have to be a little bit cheesy. You have to know the truth and fight against it. When I started to learn about the injustice that was happened to make the chocolate that I’ve loved my whole life, I started to snarl whenever I saw a Hershey’s bar. Whenever we went to whole foods I’d by a bar or two of TCHO or Alter Eco or Equal Exchange. I found out how much better they tasted compared to a sugar loaded Nestle bar. I told people about what I was doing, and I hope they changed their habits as well. I emailed the International Chocolate Company, saying that I wondered if they knew who actually harvested their chocolate. They never emailed back, but I really hope they read it, and maybe someone there would go to Africa and actually see what’s going on there.
“Interview With TCHO.” Interview by Jesse Lev Felder-Noily and Nico Ruben Inchausti. Print.
The Dark Side of Chocolate: Child Trafficking and Illegal Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry. Dir. Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Roberto Romano. Danish Broadcasting Corporation, 2010. DVD.
Crossdale, Akilah. “TCHO Factory Presentation.” TCHO Factory Tour. TCHO Factory, San Francisco. 7 May 2012. Lecture
Evans, Kelsie, Equal Exchange. “Questions About Fair Trade Chocolate.” Message to the author. 4 May 2012. E-mail.
Life in the U.S. Fair Trade movement has been in flux since Fair Trade U.S.A. (formerly TransFair) decided to withdraw from Fairtrade International, the global umbrella certifying organization (see our blog).
Following several months of conversations with fair trade businesses, consumers, producers, and other key stakeholders, Fairtrade International has decided to create a legal presence in the U.S. by early April to facilitate use of the international FAIRTRADE Mark in the market here. They will establishing a consultative panel including a variety of fair trade stakeholders, to ensure an appropriate structure, good governance, accountability, and a strong voice for Fair Trade in the U.S. Their vision is to create a “powerful, collaborative diverse coalition that is united in its belief in producer development and empowerment.”
During 2012-13, while this model is being established, FLO member organization Fairtrade Canada will continue to assist companies who would like to remain part of the global Fairtrade system.
Fairtrade International recognizes “that there are many different approaches to Fair Trade. The global Fairtrade system will compete respectfully with FTUSA, to ensure that our cumulative efforts will continue to strengthen producers’ position in international trade and improve livelihoods.”
Big news in the fair trade world! The good news is that Hershey’s has finally committed to third party monitoring; it has committed to purchasing Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa for its Bliss Chocolate products and will invest $10 million in education and its smart-phone CocoaLink project to teach West African farmers to be more efficient and increase their crop yields.
This is the first commitment that Hershey has made to using independent third-party certification to ensure that its cocoa is grown sustainably. But, increasing crop yields is not guaranteed to bring in sufficient income for a family to encourage its children to go to school instead of working in the fields.
This is great news, reflecting the positive impact that consumer advocacy can have on a company. Hershey heard from more than 100,000 consumers (including many Fair Trade Judaica participants), who expressed their concern about children being involved with harvesting cocoa for their products.
The not so good news has two parts:
– Rainforest Alliance certification focuses on how farms are managed, compared with fair trade standards, which are designed to tackle poverty and empower producers in the world’s poorest countries, giving them a guaranteed price for their products. Additionally, Fair Trade Certification monitors to assure that no child labor is used during production.
– When Hershey acquired the Dagoba chocolate product line in 2006, it maintained its Fair Trade Certification. Hershey has now decided to switch Dagoba’s certification to the Rainforest Alliance, eliminating the more stringent fair trade standards.
If you’d like to get involved, contact the Raise the Bar Hershey campaign!
Given that my New Year always begins on Rosh Hashanah, I don’t often pay a lot of attention to the December 31-January 1 transition, but this blog from Fair Trade Vancouver identifies simple things each of us can do to strengthen fair trade, and support the farmers and artisans. I’ve made a few edits so that the piece is applicable to those of us living outside of Vancouver. And, don’t forget to think “Fair Trade” when you’re buying Judaica products!
12 Fair Trade resolutions for the New Year
By Bryce, Fair Trade Vancouver on January 01, 2012
It’s that time of the year again where the crazy rush of the winter holidays winds down, and all of us get to reflect on how we can make the next year a better one. This year, why not make Fair Trade part of your New Year’s resolutions? To make things easier, the team at Fair Trade Vancouver have put together a list of 12 ways in which you can get more involved in supporting the Fair Trade Movement.
1. Decide to switch one product in your kitchen to 100% fair trade. It can be overwhelming to do it all, but by choosing among the many food options (bananas, sugar, coffee, chocolate, spices) you help to support improved labor and environmental practices around the world.
2. Advertise! Wear a button with the Fair Trade logo.
3. Start a conversation: carry a bunch of Fair Trade bananas down the street or on the bus and if people are looking, tell them why the bananas are special.
4. Ask for it! This doesn’t necessarily mean asking the establishments you attend to carry Fair Trade, but simply asking “do you have a Fair Trade option?” helps to get Fair Trade on people’s radars. It’s great to have Fair Trade at home, but sourcing Fair Trade at a restaurant, office, school, or community event can help build a movement.
5. Pass it on: take a couple of Fair Trade chocolate bars as a gift when you go to a friend’s for dinner.
6. Start another conversation: In the checkout line, make a comment to the cashier or the person behind you about how much you love the Fair Trade chocolate bar/other items you’re purchasing.
7. Potluck it: Re-create your favorite Fair Trade dessert and share it at a potluck with a list of ingredients (except for that secret one!)
8. Be an ambassador. Many people haven’t heard of Fair Trade or don’t really understand what it’s about. Be an ambassador among your friends. Ask questions together and be willing to look up answers.
9. Make the switch to reusable shopping bags made from Fair Trade cotton — support cotton farmers and the environment!
10. Continue to engage in online dialogue and advocacy. At the Africa Fair Trade Convention, there was a large cry out to have stronger connections between producers in the developing world and consumers in developed countries. African producers are starting to jump on the social media bandwagon and are ready to have conversations with consumers to further tighten the value chain. The more we ‘Vancouverites’ can spread and engage in real conversations online with producers the more we can hope to create ‘digital noise’ and spread the conversations across a larger network of consumers.
11. Gift it: for those upcoming birthdays, consider a Fair Trade item like a soccer ball, a cake made of Fair Trade ingredients, textiles.
12. Get involved. Attend (local) Fair Trade meetings. Make up a list of your questions and have coffee with someone. Teach yourself! Knowledge is power and you are in control.
In less than two weeks from now, we’ll be gathering around our menorahs, playing dreidel, eating potato latkes (and jelly doughnuts), celebrating the festival of Chanukah. Chanukah comes from the word meaning “dedication”, and refers to the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabee’s battle for religious freedom.
On Chanukah we not only celebrate our people’s freedom, but are also called upon to re-dedicate ourselves to work for the freedom and liberation of all people. Making consumer choices based on fair trade principles provides a powerful opportunity for us to act on our Jewish values.
When we buy Fair Trade products, we know that:
- Artisans and farmers are paid a fair and livable wage
- No child labor is involved
- Safe working conditions are provided
- Environmentally sustainable production methods are used.
- Profits are reinvested into the community for education, health care, and social services /li>
- Communities become self-sustaining and can raise themselves out of poverty
Here are some specific Fair Trade products you can choose to use this Chanukah:
- Sindyana Fair Trade organic olive oil for frying your potato latkes or with your oil-based menorah
- Menorahs from Ten Thousand Villages. This year they offer four uniquely different ones, made in Cambodia, India and Mexico; two of them are made from recycled materials.
- Fair Trade Chanukah gelt by Divine Chocolate; it’s the only totally guilt-free gelt where you can be assured that no child labor was involved.
- Paper cut Chanukah banners from Casa Bonampak made by fair trade artisans in Mexico add a festive quality to your gatherings.
Dedicate one night of Chanukah to learn more about fair trade and how it has positively changed the lives of artisans and farmers using these resources:
- What’s Jewish About Fair Trade?
- Mayan weavers in Guatemala
- Coffee farmers in Colombia
- Chocolate farmers in Ghana
- Textile workers in Nepal
- Craftsperson in South Africa
We all have the opportunity to create miracles in this world!
Fair Trade USA (FTUSA, formerly Transfair) announced earlier this fall that it is resigning its membership in Fairtrade International (FLO), the international fair trade certification organization. FTUSA, the dominant certifier in the U.S. market has been a key member of the FLO since 1998 when it was founded; its certifiying label is widely recognized on fair trade products in the U.S. It has launched a new initiative, Fair for All, which expands fair trade certification to coffee laborers on plantations.
History of the Fair Trade Movement
Beginning roughly around the 1940s, Fair Trade as we know it today, began in reaction to the exploitive trading relationships and harsh working conditions that were common in many tropical commodities industries (coffee, chocolate, and sugar to name a few). Direct trade relationships were initiated by church and community groups in order to create direct trade relationships with producers, effectively creating an alternative supply chain parallel to conventional trade. These alternative trade relationships created direct partnerships among producers and consumers and were defined by better prices, longer-term contracts and personal relationships.
The movement spread to countries all around the world — including the US, Canada, countries in Europe, New Zealand and Australia — and, eventually, national Fair Trade groups such as Fair Trade Canada were formed. In 1997, these national groups joined under one umbrella organization called the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International headquartered in Bonn, Germany. The FLO has since changed its name to Fairtrade International.
In 1998, the Fair Trade label was born in order to help producers access more markets for their products, which catapulted Fair Trade towards the success it’s had to date. The Fairtrade Labeling Organization in Germany sets the standards for Fair Trade products, and FLO-CERT (a separate company) ensures that these standards are met by producers’ organizations around the world. In all the respective countries where Fair Trade goods are sold, local organizations (like Fair Trade Canada here, or the Fair Trade Foundation in the UK, for example) ensure that only products that meet the FLO standards bear the Fair Trade label.
Implications and Response
One of the FLO’s most important functions has been to set Fair Trade standards, which has ensured, that from Vancouver to Beijing, consumers know exactly what the Fair Trade label represents. The system hasn’t always been perfect, and the FLO, along with its member organizations, have done a lot to reform the standards to ensure that all stakeholders in Fair Trade are represented – especially producers and producer groups. Fair Trade’s most famous standards have been financial ones: the Fair Trade minimum price and the Fair Trade social premium, but that’s not all Fair Trade is about. One of the most celebrated Fair Trade standards has been the requirement that producers organize themselves in democratically run co-operatives, where all members have an equal voice in the way business is done and the way the Fair Trade premium is spent. These cooperatives have become powerful forces in Fair Trade, and have helped producers pool together resources and discover power in numbers that otherwise might not be available if they were working independently.
FTUSA’s resignation from FLO is highly significant:
- This is the first time since the birth of the FLO that any national organization has decided to leave the unifying umbrella network that the FLO has provided since the late 1990s.
- This is the first time ever that a national organization has decided to split from the FLO to unilaterally develop its own standards for a given product. Furthermore, the standards that Fair Trade USA has decided to develop for coffee do not include a requirement for producers to be organized in democratically run cooperatives.
FTUSA’s decision to leave FLO has been met with predominantly negative reaction from most sectors of the fair trade movement. You can read statements from a variety of organizations on the Fair Trade Resource Networks’ website
*** Thanks to Fair Trade Vancouver for this overview
I Recently returned from a wonderful week of Jewish community and learning at the National Havurah Institute. As I was preparing for a workshop I taught on community investing (a project from earlier in my work life), I found a connection with the fair trade world, bringing together two of my passions!
It turns out that Oikocredit is one of the world’s largest sources of private funding in the microfinance sector. They also provide credit to trade cooperatives, fair trade organizations and small to medium enterprises in the developing world.
Kuapa Kukoo, now a cooperative comprised of more than 45,000 cacao farmers in Ghana, was formed In the 1990’s. Over the years, it grew into Divine Chocolate, Ltd in England, the only farmer-owned chocolate company in the world. Sufficient profit was made that the farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative began to receive dividends beginning in 2007. In addition, the fair trade premium pad for cocoa is used to construct and improve drinking water wells, primary schools, and other community projects decided by the farmers themselves.
When Divine Chocolate decided to enter the U.S. chocolate market in 2006, Oikocredit stepped forward with investments in the new division as well as a line of credit. In the past 5 years, Divine US has become a significant player in the fair trade chocolate market, including being the largest provider of Fair Trade Kosher Chanukah gelt!
The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the international network of organizations (those making Judaica products, not food products) demonstrating a 100% Fair Trade commitment, recently published a detailed description of their “Ten Principles of Fair Trade“.
– Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
– Transparency and Accountability
– Fair Trading Practices
– Payment of a Fair Price
– Ensuring no Child Labor or Forced Labor
– Commitment to Non-Discriminatin, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association
– Ensuring Good Working Conditions
– Providing Capacity Building
– Promoting Fair Trade
– Respect for the Environment
Summer has arrived. I just returned from a week in Minnesota, where it’s so hot you can melt chocolate on the sidewalk!
One of my favorite memories as a child was practicing how to make the absolutely perfect s’more (marshmallow gooey but not burned, and getting it onto the graham cracker before it fell off) using a Hershey chocolate bar. But since I learned about forced child labor in the chocolate industry, it doesn’t sound very delicious anymore. Tens of thousands of children work in cocoa fields, exposed to hazardous conditions where they spray pesticides without protective gear, use sharp tools, and sustain injuries.
The GOOD news: There are lots of fair trade Kosher chocolates to choose from, and child labor is prohibited in fair trade certification. I’m looking forward to enjoying my first delicious fair trade s’more this weekend!
Hershey’s is the only chocolate company in the U.S. which is not using any fair trade cocoa beans in its products. Join Fair Trade Judaica and the Jewish community in encouraging Hershey’s to support fair trade and child labor-free chooclate.
Let us know what you’re planning to do!
I haven’t been quite the same since I watched “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD last September at the international fair trade conference in Boston. I had heard that children were involved in harvesting cocoa, the same cocoa that makes the chocolate bars that I love in my s’mores every summer. But who wants to believe that chocolate could be so bittersweet in that way?
The DVD documents Danish journalist, Miki Mistrati’s journey to Cote d’Ivoire to investigate these allegations. And what you see on the screen is quite disturbing. Not only are children working in the cocoa fields, but many are trafficked there, working involuntarily, and in hazardous conditions.
One moment your heart is broken, then inspired by the courage of others trying to stop the trafficking. And then outraged, when the chocolate company executives solidly deny these claims, even though Mistrati has captured all this on film.
Last September I brought home a copy of the DVD, part of the Raise the Bar Hershey campaign, inspired to spread the word. Fair Trade Judaica has developed an entire resource section called “Bean of Affliction: Chocolate, Child Labor, and Choosing Fair Trade“, which provides background information, ideas for raising this issue at Passover seder, and campaigns to promote fair trade chocolate (including Kosher for Passover chocolate!).
And since last September when I saw “The Dark Side of Chocolate”, I have only purchased Fair Trade chocolate – even the dark chocolate tastes sweet!
If you haven’t heard already, you will soon feel it in your wallet. Rising cotton prices due to a global cotton scarcity, as well as the rise in production and labor costs are affecting the worldwide textile industry. In the last year, the world witnessed devastating natural disasters from the floods throughout Asia, Australia, and the United States. In addition, apparel market prices have not increased to keep up with the real cost of production. Many of us will see a 10-15% increase in the cost of clothing. From larger textile manufacturers, to small fair trade importers, companies are looking for alternative materials to continue production in the developing world. For fair trade companies, continuing sustainable partnerships is key to economic justice for artisans.
MayaWorks, a nonprofit fair trade organization working with approximately 125 indigenous artisans in Guatemala, has also been affected by the rise in cotton prices. MayaWorks’ artisans rely on high quality AZO-free cotton threads for the majority of their fair trade products. Many companies have discontinued cotton thread production due to the volatility of the market. Because it is our goal to provide steady, sustainable and fair work for our artisan partners, MayaWorks is responding with creative solutions.
MayaWorks is responding to the crisis by creating strategic short and long term production solutions in partnership with Guatemalan staff and artisans. When our major supplier shut its doors, Guatemalan staff immediately looked for other local thread cooperatives. Still, this is only a short term solution and cotton prices continue to increase. MayaWorks staff in the US and Guatemala have begun to collaborate with local design companies to source natural, reusable, and eco-friendly materials available in Guatemala. These materials include jute, recycled cotton, and natural seeds for jewelry. We have also met with local talent, including design consultants and university students. Other solutions include discontinuing production of larger, less popular woven items, and investing in smaller, functional products.
Other fair trade companies like Greenola are facing similar challenges. Jennifer Moran, owner of Greenola, sources fashionable, fair trade and eco-friendly products from South America. “We were unable to sell our REALLY popular cotton crocheted scarves as the price would have doubled!” In reaction to the global cotton scarcity, Greenola is focusing on smaller accessories and jewelry. They are also training partner cooperatives to learn new skills such as sewing, so that they have other types of work and focusing on products made of alpaca. Artisans are focusing on simpler designs, staying away from high detail, labor intensive items.
Sustainable Threads is a fair trade company working with artisans in India. Harish and his producer groups have also faced difficulty as much of their products are made with organically certified cotton. “Not only are the prices of cotton going up but also the labor costs for production are increasing at the same time.” “We plan to discontinue [some products]. In some cases we have reduced the design work on the product, so the prices are still workable to sell in the US market.” Sustainable Threads is also planning on working with recycled materials and products.
Fair trade companies will need to respond to this situation quickly, and look for alternative materials that are more eco-friendly and sustainable. There is no telling when the cotton crisis will subside, but many forecasters are predicting a difficult year ahead.
Written by Naomi Czerwinskyj, MayaWorks Product Manager
With 2011 just around the corner, I‘ve been looking for the right calendar to hang in my office – something beautiful and inspiring. Usually I choose scenes from nature, a good balance to the mental thinking I do when I’m working.
This year, I’ll be purchasing the Fair Trade 2011 Calendar, featuring stunning photos of artisans and farmers which won the 2010 fair trade photo contest. What was most exciting to discover is that one of the months features a photo of MayaWorks’ artisans from San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala actually crocheting their beautiful Kippot/Yamulkes!
The full color 13.5″ x 9.5″ calendar is printed on environmentally friendly New Leaf paper using earth-friendly printing processes.
And every month you’re introduced to a group of hard working artisans and farmers who create beautiful crafts or grow the coffee, cocoa, tea, and more that we depend on, and in return, are guaranteed a living wage, safe working conditions, and enough profits to send their children to school, build health clinics, or install safe drinking water.
What better way to be inspired each day?
We are excited that our partnership with Casa Bonampak has resulted in a new line of Judaica Papel Picado (paper cut) Banners. Current offerings include a metallic banner for Chanukah, and two tissue paper banners, one featuring Jewish spiritual symbols and a Mazel Tov celebratory banner. A new wedding banner to be used with a chuppah and at wedding celebrations is in development.
Papel picado (“perforated paper”) is the Mexican folk art of paper cutting into elaborate designs. The designs are commonly cut from tissue paper using a guide and small chisels, creating as many as forty banners at a time.
Common themes includes birds, floral designs, and skeletons. They are commonly displayed for Easter, Christmas and the Day of the Dead, as well as during weddings, quinceañeras and christenings. Papel picado can also be made by folding the tissue paper and using small, sharp scissors.
Paper cutting has been a common Jewish art form since the Middle Ages. In 1345, Rabbi Shem-Tov ben Yitzhak ben Ardutiel, finding that his ink had frozen, continued to write the manuscript he was working on, by cutting the letters into the paper. By about the 17th century, paper cutting had become a popular form for small religious artifacts such as mizrachs (an ornamental wall plaque used to indicate the direction of prayer in Jewish homes) and Shavuot decorations. In the 20th century, the art of Jewish papercutting was revived in Israel. Today it is most commonly used for mizrachs and ketubot.
Fair Trade Judaica worked together with Casa Bonampak to design and produce each of these banners. They can be purchased on-line at the Casa Bonampak web site.
“Who knew there were so many beautiful Judaica products made by fair trade artisans around the world?” was one of the most overheard comments at Fair Trade Judaica’s First Annual Fair in Berkeley on October 17.
Attendees were excited to find a range of beautiful and interesting Judaica products, influenced by the local cultures in which they were designed, from beaded mezzuzahs made in Guatemala, to over ten different kippot (crocheted, knitted, sewed, collage of recycled soda cans) from Guatemala, South Africa, and Thailand, to embroidered challah and matzah covers made in Guatemala.
The stories behind the fair trade organizations and the products captured peoples’ attention. One organization, Mayan Hands, was started by a Jewish Guatemalan woman. After conducting anthropological work among the Mayan women for 20 years, she decided that it was time to give something back to them, and launched her fair trade business both to help provide them with income, as well as preserve their cultural and craft heritage.
The idea for MayaWorks’ famous kippot, one of the first fair trade Judaica products available, happened when a local (Jewish) tourist was visiting the artisans, and saw the unsewn hackey-sack balls lying on the ground, realizing that they would also make beautiful kippot. And since then, they are one of MayaWorks’ best selling products.
And, Partners for Just Trade’s new line of Judaica pendants was inspired by fair trade supporter Yochi Zakai who visited the artisans at their Peruvian shop. He wanted to buy something for his Jewish mother, but not seeing anything relevant, he worked with the artisans, Partners for Just Trade,and Fair Trade Judaica to launch a new line, including a silver star of David, and two hamsah designs.
So exciting to be at the Fair Trade Futures Conference, joining over 780 fair trade artisans, farmers, advocates, retailers, and wholesalers from around the globe. It was inspiring to be among so many people committed to a fair trade world based on transparency, respect, and justice, as well as a willingness to self-critique where the movement may be falling short.
The stars of the conference were the farmers and artisans who came from South America, Africa, and Asia to tell their personal stories. It was the first opportunity for many of us to meet them directly, and there was strong support for their voices to be heard more loudly within the certification process.
Fair Trade Judaica was the only visible Jewish presence at the conference, and we were greeted with much support and enthusiasm, and many opportunities for collaboration. There was a lot of interest in developing the fair trade Judaica niche.
One of the highlights was being able to speak directly with artisans and fair trade organizations about creating new fair trade Judaica products – lots of interest in helping us build the movement. Keep your eyes open over the next year for these new Judaica products:
- Wire and bead kippahs for women from Guatemala
- Small wooden dreidels from India
- Beautiful baskets made from recycled metal
- Bracelets made from recycled paper in Africa
Only a month away from the first ever Fair Trade Judaica Fair, to be held in Berkeley, CA on October 17. This will be the largest gathering of all the fair trade Judaica products currently available in the marketplace, including challah and matzah covers, kippahs, tallitot, home decorations, menorahs, cards, jewelry and kosher chocolate and coffee! The Judaica products embody traditional cultural and artistic designs from countries in Latin and South American, Asia, and Africa.
Imagine praying in a kippah or tallit handmade by an artisan who you know was paid a fair wage for their work? Or knowing that the jewelry you are wearing may have helped a young child go to school?
If you’re not in the San Francisco Bay Area, please let friends and family know about this wonderful opportunity!
Looking forward to attending the Fair Trade Futures Conference beginning Friday September 10 – a three day opportunity to meet with over 700 people from around the world, committed to the principles and practice of fair trade. Attendees will include producer groups (like Fair Trade Group Nepal), fair trade organizations here in the U.S. who represent some of the artisans making fair trade Judaica products, fair trade umbrella groups like Fair Trade Federation and Transfair USA, student campaigns for fair trade, and advocacy organizations like Fair Trade Judaica.
I’m hoping we will find a few producer groups who will be interested in working with FTJ to design and produce new Judaica products, meet fair trade retailers who are interested in adding Judaica items to their inventory, and talk about expanding the range of Kosher fair trade food products!
Stay tuned for a report back from the Conference!
One of my favorite Rosh Hashanah traditions is dipping apples into honey (and eating them!) as a symbol of starting the Jewish new year with sweetness. Last year I found out about fair trade kosher honey from Wholesome Sweeteners, and knowing that the farmers were paid fair wages and that they were able to preserve a long community tradition, made the enjoyment of the apples and honey even sweeter. Here’s some info on their story:
High in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico 46 beekeepers have formed a Fair Trade Certified cooperative, and the whole community prospers from the honey harvest. The hives have been tended by Mayan communities for generations, creating meaningful employment. The hives are isolated, deep within organic perimeters, and the bees forage only on native plants—wildflowers and, for one brief week every year, organically cultivated coffee blooms. As the season progresses and the flowers change, the honeys’ character changes too, deepening in color and flavor.
Before they formed a fair trade cooperative, middlemen, or “coyotes,” took a majority of the beekeepers’ income. Now, there are no middlemen involved and the cooperative works autonomously and directly with customers. The beekeepers are able to improve standards for their families (like sending their children to school), their communities and protect precious rainforests and habitat.
It’s a win-win for farmer and consumer alike.