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.