Archive - January 2017

How FTJ Helped Enhance Jewish Cultural Programming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fair Trade Shabbat Confirmation

Rabbi Robin Damsky
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

Fair Trade Shabbat: Inviting Holiness and Human Rights to our Table

Guest post by Teri Jedeikin who organized a Fair Trade Shabbaton in Baltimore

Celebrating Havdalah at Fair Trade Shabbat

Celebrating Havdalah at Fair Trade Shabbat

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.

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

Fair Trade Judaica at the Fair

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.

  • Banners
  • Grogger Time
  • Looking Around
  • Many Kippot
  • Soda Can Kippot
  • Table View
  • Young Couple

1st Annual FTJ Fair a Great Success!

“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.

FTJ at the Fair Trade Futures Conference!

Fair Trade Futures ConferenceSo 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

Fair Trade Judaica Fair

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!

Fair Trade Futures Conference

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!