A trip to the florist three years ago inspired Prof. Dennis Klein to found the Fair Trade Teaneck Steering Committee, which has organized its third annual Fair Trade Sabbath series of events to mark national Fair Trade Month in October.
Among the five houses of worship participating over the next few weeks are two synagogues, Congregation Beth Sholom and Temple Emeth. Fair Trade Sabbath is intended to unite religious congregations in support of fair wages, sustainable farming methods, and the abolition of child slave labor.
With its origins dating to post-World War II, the fair trade movement originally was a charitable effort championed by religious organizations. Today, the movement encourages people to buy such products as coffee, tea, sugar, and clothing only if those particular items are socially and commercially sustainable products. Such products should be chosen in place of commodities that may harm the environment, the economy, communities, and disadvantaged people.
“Fair Trade Teaneck’s decision to convene Fair Trade Sabbath observances during Fair Trade Month recalls the international movement’s origins in organized religion,” said Klein, a human rights activist who directs the master’s degree program in Holocaust and genocide studies at Kane University. “They remind us of our faith in dedicated hard work to achieve a measure of justice for the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.”
His inspiration came when he walked into Tiger Lily, a Teaneck florist shop, Klein said. The store’s owner, Tim Blunk, had a display about fair-trade flowers on his counter. “I asked him about it, and he struck me as extremely knowledgeable and committed to the project,” Klein said. “He really tapped a nerve for me.”
Blunk became a member of the steering committee that Klein put together. His goal was to leverage the Teaneck community’s long-time reputation for civic consciousness into practical support of fair trade.
At Beth Sholom, at 10 a.m. on October 19, Rabbi Joel Pitkowski will speak from the pulpit about fair trade in the context of environmental sustainability. The service will be followed by a kiddush at noon featuring certified fair-trade items. On Sunday, October 20, Beth Sholom will sponsor a program on the environment.
“I have been involved in Fair Trade Teaneck since I got here two and a half years ago,” Pitkowski said. “For me, it is a wonderful way to express Jewish values of caring for our fellow human beings and the environment, and having those values expressed in how we live every day.”
When Pitkowski came to Beth Sholom, among his first actions was switching the “official” shul treat from Hershey Kisses to fair-trade chocolate. It was “a simple way to illustrate the idea,” he said.
“One of the beautiful notions of Judaism is that it has something to say about everything we do – including what we eat, what we wear, and how we interact with the people who make our food and with the environment that God created for us,” he added.
Temple Emeth will observe Fair Trade Sabbath on November 2 at 12:30 p.m. by showing the documentary “Nothing Like Chocolate” and following that with a discussion with guest speaker Dr. Judith Friedman. Her late son, Mott Green, the founder of the Grenada Chocolate Company, is the subject of this 2012 film.
Grace Lutheran Church, Brothers and Sisters Church, and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church also are participating in Teaneck’s Fair Trade Sabbath.
Klein and his committee are eager to get additional houses of worship involved, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.
“We were very much actively reaching out and explaining fair trade to all these congregations, and they have to decide if it fits with their mission. For reasons I can only speculate, we’re finding it a bit more difficult to make this truly inclusive,” Klein said. He credits Mimi Confer, Sharla Delawter, and the Rev. Clemens Reinke with setting up appointments by phone or in person to discuss with local congregations how they might participate.
However, he added, “We recognized that a sense of economic justice is an important feature for people who live and work in Teaneck, so we took our campaign to the business community and there was a good response there.”
Any congregation interested in participating in Fair Trade Sabbath or in hosting a speaker at its house of worship is encouraged to email Dennis Klein at email@example.com. For more information on Fair Trade Teaneck, go to www.fairtradeteaneck.org.