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