The idea for Fair Trade Judaica initially grew out of Ilana Schatz’s (FTJ founder) introduction to the fair trade movement while traveling in Nepal and visiting a fair trade store in Kathmandu. Throughout the store were photos and stories about the artisans, as well as information about fair trade and its impact on bringing people out of poverty. Moved by the stories, Ilana decided to buy a beautiful white shawl realizing that it would be a perfect replacement for her 30 year old tallit (Jewish prayer shawl).
Upon arriving home, she tied on a set of tzitzit (fringes), and wore it the following Shabbat (Sabbath). Wrapped in it for the first time, she thought of the woman who had personally hand made the tallit and felt that this “purchase” was totally aligned with her values as a Jewish person. She continues to think of the weaver every time she wears the tallit.
A few years later, through Progressive Jewish Alliance and their “Kosher Kippot” campaign, Ilana learned that fair trade kippot were available. Conversations with friends as well as owners of Judaica stores confirmed that there was much interest in promoting and purchasing fair trade Judaica items. Through a long and involved Google search, seven fair trade businesses were identified which sold Judaica items as part of their inventory. It became clear that these individual businesses did not have the capacity to market to the Jewish community, and that a clearinghouse which pulled all these resources together would help create a “fair trade Judaica movement.” David Lingren (Ilana’s husband) and she developed and launched the first Fair Trade Judaica website in September 2007.
The Fair Trade Judaica Advisory Board was formed in January 2009 and FTJ as an organization was born. The project was accepted into the first cohort of UpStart Bay Area in March 2009, which has been providing assistance in FTJ’s business and program development. Fair Trade Judaica formally became a project of Community Partners/Jumpstart, their non-profit fiscal sponsor, in February 2010.
Follow-up visits to Nepal led to the inspiration for FTJ’s Jewish Blessing Flags, and our collaboration with artists was underway! Today, FTJ helps artisans and fair trade organizations develop new Judaica products and market their handicrafts as part of our initiative to promote fair trade as a Jewish value.