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Why a Nice Jewish Girl Writes Holiday Carols

by Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, Global Exchanges Fair Trade Campaign Director

This week, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, I am honored that Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, a self-described “nice Jewish girl,” is sharing the faith-based reasons behind her Fair Trade work.  I got to know and respect Adrienne a bit as she created the Fair Trade Holiday project for Global Exchange.  Shes one of Fair Trade’s most energetic and creative activists so it is no surprise she ends this reflection (the first of two installments) with several inclusive action steps. ~ Jackie

The week this blog entry is being posted, Jewish people celebrate our holiest week of the year:  the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Therefore, the question of how my faith background intersects with my role as Global Exchanges Fair Trade Campaign Director is especially present with me.  For me, there is both a personal side to this question “How do our faith traditions move us personally?” and a pragmatic, campaign side to this question” How can our personal understanding of faith communities inform and improve our campaigns to promote Fair Trade?”

For me, on the most personal level, there is one single experience that fascinates me the most about the intersection of spirituality and social justice advocacy.  Have you ever had an “ah-hah” moment about the roots of your passion for social justice advocacy when you participate in a religious custom or service?  For me, as a secular Jew who participates in faith rituals mostly on religious holidays, the “ah-hah” moments happen every year when I attend services for the High Holidays, retell the Hanukkah story, or participate in the Passover Seder.

Of all the pieces I have written for Global Exchanges Fair Trade Campaign, one of my favorites is our Passover Seder insert, which is written in the lyrical language of the Passover Haggadah and draws a parallel between the Biblical story of slavery in Egypt and the slavery faced by the children who are forced to grow our cocoa.  At Passover, we remember the time that the Jewish people suffered as slaves in Egypt and escaped.  Global Exchanges Fair Trade campaign not only promotes Fair Trade cocoa, but also seeks to end child slavery in the cocoa fields, which is prohibited by the Fair Trade standards.  An estimated 12,000 children are slaves in the cocoa fields of West Africa.

Thinking about this piece, and reflecting on faith and Fair Trade advocacy, I have been struck by the themes of personal responsibility for social justice advocacy that seem to emerge from our faith traditions.  Parts of the Haggadah are written in the first person, as we say “when I was a slave in Egypt”, not “when they were slaves in Egypt.”  The Passover Seder serves as a mandate to all generations to put ourselves firmly in the shoes of another, imagine what it would be like, and work to end the injustice around us today.

Thinking of this characteristic of the Haggadah, one hears echoes of other wisdom that comes from our faith communities, like the rule of treating our neighbor as we would wish to be treated ourselves.  Or the famous poem of theologian and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemaller, in which the voice in the poem laments that each time the Nazis came for another group, he or she did not speak up, and “Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”  Or the expression “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Fair Trade is about walking in another persons shoes.  We are all the farmer in Ethopia, the enslaved child in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast, or that childs parents, sick with worry, the youth in a coffee-farming community hungering to go to school.

For all that we stand in the shoes of neighbors, we also stand in our own shoes.  And we are blessed with resources and a sense of fairness and a moral compass that our faith traditions give us.  The resources to change things are in our hands.  If only each one of us recommits ourselves to using them.

When we choose the coffee or cocoa or crafts we will buy, we must treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated ourselves.  Not only that, but we must take action to transform the economy so that every one of our real neighbors in our community is also buying Fair Trade.  We are the ones with the resources and the ability to speak out.  We are all Moses.

I feel very blessed to bring a background of having been raised in a faith tradition to my work in Fair Trade, and not only because it is one of the original catalysts that inspired me to do this work.  I believe that having a deep appreciation for the importance and potential of the contributions of faith communities in achieving social justice enables me to better serve in my role of supporting coffee- and cocoa-growing communities lift themselves out of poverty.  For those of us who were raised and/or participate in a faith tradition, I think our background provides us a key component of both the “why?” and “how?” of compelling, effective, and dynamic social justice advocacy.  To me, even though I work at a secular institution, this means that faith-based initiatives are absolutely a priority in Fair Trade advocacy.

During this special week and beyond, I would like to invite you to help spread Fair Trade faith-based programs (available at www.globalexchange.org/cocoa) all over the US, by participating, organizing your congregations, and telling friends nationwide:

Finally, I would like to invite you to join me in the cocoa fields, so that together we can learn about the lives of producers and even ask them their opinions on the role of faith in Fair Trade.  I will be leading a delegation to Conacado in the Dominican Republic in May 26-June 6, 2010.  Visit www.globalexchange.org/tours for more information.

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