Archive - May 2015

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

NEW Fair Trade Coffee Pledge

Coffee Beans CupCoffee 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!

Rachel Braun
Rabbinical Student
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
T’ruah Summer Fellow in Human Rights, ’14