Archive - May 2016

SECRET PAIN By Rabbi Elliot Salo Schoenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights from our Guatemala Trip

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

Some of the trip highlights:

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

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

Being overwhelmed by the colors in the Chichicastenango Market

Spending time on beautiful Lake Atitlan

Watching volcanoes blow!

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

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

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

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

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

Keep checking back on her website for more updates.

Adat Israel group



What’s Jewish about Guatemala?

Guest blog posTeri Jedeikin Blog Photot 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!



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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


Let’s be partners for change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s be partners for change.

Ronald Fischman

Sweeten Your Rosh Hashanah With Fair Trade Honey

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

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

 Fair Trade Sweetens the Deal

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

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

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

 Fair Trade standards for honey assure that:

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

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

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

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

          No forced or child labor is involved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Majestic and Moist Honey Cake

Marcy Goldman, A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking


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


Make cake at least 1 day before eating.

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Weaver’s Reflections on Guatemala


Carol Bodin in Guatemala

Carol Bodin Checking Out Spooled Thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on our Guatemala Experience

by David Lingren, FTJ’s Chief Technology Maven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweeten Your Rosh Hashanah with Fair Trade Honey

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.

Fair Trade Your Chanukah!

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:

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:

We all have the opportunity to create miracles in this world!

The Story Behind Fair Trade Kosher Chanukah Gelt

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 Crisis of Cotton: How Fair Trade Responds to Rising Costs

Artisan Lila preparing cotton thread for her loom.

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