Jewish groups launch fair trade network

A new partnership has launched to enable the purchase of kosher “fair trade” coffee, tea and chocolate while supporting Jewish communal efforts on human trafficking and worker justice.

The Jewish Fair Trade Partnership allows individuals and Jewish institutions like synagogues to purchase fair trade products at wholesale prices while supporting Equal Exchange, Fair Trade Judaica and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

Fair trade products are designed to help farmers, primarily in developing countries, stay on their land, support their families, plan for the future and care for the environment. A portion of the proceeds from sales will support T’ruah and Fair Trade Judaica’s work promoting the end of modern-day slavery and protecting workers’ rights.

“Jewish law goes to great length to protect low-wage workers, whom our tradition knows are vulnerable to exploitation,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah, in a news release issued jointly by the partner organizations. “Through this project, our sacred spaces will reflect the values of our tradition.”

A network of 1,800 rabbis and cantors, T’ruah (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights-North America) focuses on human rights issues globally and describes itself as the “leading Jewish organization working to end modern-day slavery.”

Founded in 2007, California-based Fair Trade Judaica works to create a “Jewish-based ethical consumer model” and sells a variety of Judaica products meeting specific standards assuring fair and livable wages, no child labor, and healthy and safe working conditions.

Since 1998, the Equal Exchange Interfaith Program has involved more than 10,000 religious institutions in purchasing fair trade products. Current partners include Lutheran World Relief, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Catholic Relief Services, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

The Jewish Fair Trade Project includes Equal Exchange kosher-certified coffee, tea and chocolate products. Most of the products are listed as kosher for Passover.

Letters to the editor: ACA, mitzvot, fair trade chocolate and Noble Prizes

First, Practice Mitzvot

In “No Faith, No Jewish Future” (Nov. 6), Dennis Prager has it backward. The assiduous practice of mitzvot results in recognition of their foundation, not visa versa. Halachic adherence remains the key to growth in Orthodox Judaism. A 3-year-old child learns what we do, i.e., wear tzitzit, when he puts them on and recites a bracha. A yeshiva student gains an understanding as to why we wear them, while studying talmudic tractate, Brachot. Contrary to Dennis’ suggestion, few, if any, outside Orthodoxy who “scrupulously follow halachah” reject the divinity of the Torah. The problem is not a failure to accept the divinity of the Torah; Rather, it is a failure to practice its dictates. Practice of halachah is a precursor to growth and understanding. We cannot be expected to comprehend that which is beyond our own practice and experience.

Mark Herskovitz, Los Angeles

Dennis Prager responds: 

Mr. Herskowitz and I differ. No problem. But his statement, “Contrary to Dennis’ suggestion, few, if any, outside Orthodoxy who ‘scrupulously follow halacha’ reject the divinity of the Torah,” is rarely, if ever, the case. The belief of non-Orthodox Jews who keep halacha was perfectly summarized by the past chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary: “The Torah is the foundation text of Judaism … not because it is divine, but because it is sacred.”

More on the Affordable Care Act

David Suissa’s article “Lies and Consequences” (Nov. 15) is long on rhetoric and short on facts. Lying requires at least some degree of intent.

When President Barack Obama assured citizens they could keep their policies, he was referring to the grandfather clause included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That clause allowed policyholders to keep plans that were in effect as of the date the ACA was enacted in 2010.

The major reason the grandfather clause did not work is that the insurance companies kept creating plans after 2010 that they knew would not be valid after the launch of the ACA, something of which their customers were not cognizant. The insurance companies made use of that lack of sophistication among their customers. As a result, the vast majority of canceled policies were those written or amended between 2010 and 2013. For people who bought insurance plans prior to 2010 when ACA was enacted, President Obama’s statement that you can keep your plan was true and remains true. 

Is President Obama guilty of underestimating the insurance companies? Absolutely. But that does not rise to the level of a lie. It would be appropriate for the author of this column to research and write a follow-up article, this time with facts, on the real culprit, the billion-dollar, for-profit medical insurance industry.

Aaron Rubin, Los Angeles 

David Suissa responds: 

Merriam-Webster defines a lie as “to create a false or misleading impression.” In February 2010, at the health care summit with Republicans, President Obama acknowledged that 8 million to 9 million people “might have to change their coverage.” Knowing that, for three-plus years thereafter, and especially during his re-election campaign, the president promised Americans that “if you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan. Period.” That’s why The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker site gave that statement its worse possible ranking — four Pinocchios.

Buy Fair Trade First

I read with great interest Deborah Prinz’s fascinating account of the role of chocolate in Jewish history (“Chocolate Freedoms of Chanukah and Thanksgiving,” Nov. 29). To really reinforce the notion that chocolate eaten at Chanukah symbolizes the freedoms won by the Maccabees, one should go one step further. Since most of the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa beans picked by children in the Ivory Coast, buying Fair Trade chocolate (certified to not involve children in the production) would really show how much we value freedom for all.

Mark Elinson, Los Angeles

A Wonderful Abundance of Nobel Laureates

The use of the term obnoxious to describe recognition of Jewish accomplishments in Nobel Prize history (“This Week in Jewish History,” Nov. 22) is regrettable. This phenomenon, a proportionally large representation of Nobel laureates attributed to the Jewish population, is a wonderful achievement that should be proudly and frequently referenced, in part to encourage our children to pursue careers in the sciences, liberal arts and engineering. It would have been preferable to have had the Jewish Journal staff edit the offending paragraph accordingly before recirculating it.

Jeff Gold, Rancho Palos Verdes

Eco-friendly aspects of the simcha can elevate a young person’s conscience

Given that many high-profile celebrities expound on the virtues of their environmental involvements (among them, Natalie Portman and Alicia Silverstone), it is inevitable that eco-friendly activities, foods and fashion — along with a side of social justice — will appeal to a wide range of teens … and that this will get some of them seeing green for their bar or bat mitzvah.

The Web site Green Mitzvot (“>, suggest that getting kids involved in the party-planning process may also plant seeds for good civic and personal habits. 

Kattler Kupetz is best known in Southern California for creating eco-friendly parties covering everything from the selection of the foods to the décor to the post-ceremony activities with a philanthropic slant. 

“The whole point of a bar or bat mitzvah is to validate a teen’s learning from a sacred text and then finding ways for him or her to use the knowledge,” said Kattler Kupetz, who fell into her “green” business several years ago by accident, when her daughters’ green b’not mitzvah proved to be a hit with the guests.  

“I had to really develop, create and advocate for all the other elements that would complete the experience,” Kattler Kupetz recalled. “During the process of sourcing the party elements and planning the activities, I was surprised at how far I could make my dollars go and how I was able to find ways to connect with the community and even Israel by sourcing things from local vendors and seeking out alternatives for décor and activities. It made me realize how interconnected I could make a celebration be on different levels.”

Live orchid plants used as a centerpiece can be replanted. Photo courtesy of SRO Events, Inc.

Celebrity event planner and author Rená Puebla (A natural grapewood centerpiece is surrounded by herb plants that can be donated to food pantries. Photo courtesy of SRO Events, Inc.

Among trends Kattler Kupetz sees taking shape are girls visiting vintage clothing shops instead of department stores or trendy boutiques. 

Puebla says that Southern California offers interesting alternatives to the traditional hotel or banquet hall, including whale-watching trips and beach picnics with a guest speaker from an ocean preservation organization explaining why the ocean is so important and the importance of the ocean to the climate and global warming.

“Party favors [for outdoor-specific events] can include a beach bag with a water bottle that includes a filter, a hat, a pull-over and beach sandals, all made from eco-friendly materials,” Puebla said. “In terms of clothing that works for casual and formal gatherings, H&M just launched an eco-friendly formalwear line called Conscious Exclusive that is also budget-friendly and includes age-appropriate styles.” 

Kattler Kupetz also encourages “twinning,” where families financially affiliate their child’s celebration with a charity so the day not only syncs in with the child’s mitzvah project but also raises money and awareness for a greater cause. Some of her favorite organizations are Remember Us (r“>; and AMIT (“>, has seen other trends taking shape, including sourcing food from local farms and purveyors, and doing some form of online invitation. 

While Kattler Kupetz says companies like Evite Postmark have raised the bar for online invitations, Hassel admits that some of her clients still feel that online invites diminish the importance of the big day. A compromise she suggests is sending out the traditional invitation but replacing the reply card with a prompt to RSVP by e-mail or on a Web site set up for the teen’s bar or bat mitzvah. 

As always, issues of finance sometimes trump issues of conscience, and Hassel says there are clients who haven’t gone green because preparations for a specific theme can end up being more expensive than one might expect. By the same token, however, she points out that many things she recommends to cost-conscious parents can also end up being environmentally conscious because recycling is involved.

Even if a family doesn’t bring up the issue of being eco-friendly, Hassel believes that there are teachable moments in the process. 

“We can suggest to kids, for example, that we skip such party favors as glow sticks, plastic sunglasses and other ‘toss-outs,’ as they are not biodegradable and will sit on the floor and end up going into landfills after the party.”

Another way Hassel said teens can be channeled toward more purpose-driven b’nai mitzvah experiences is through centerpieces. In lieu of flowers, parents can make a donation to organizations like the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program (

The Baby Food for Grown-ups

Along with the wave of ergonomically correct strollers and SAT flashcards for the 5-month-old comes Homemade Baby. This baby food company certifies its products as organic, non-GMO (no genetically modified organisms), fair trade and kosher, and offers services like a Tasting Room and a Meal Integrity System to ensure that your child stays happy and healthy with every bite.

The owners, Theresa Edy Kiene and Matt Kiene, started Homemade Baby after Theresa received rave reviews for the home-cooked baby food she served her own three daughters. Kids and parents (who, when encountering the dishes at the Kienes’ dinner parties, did not realize they were being served baby food) demanded more. So the Kienes left successful careers in television to start the company, armed with a mission: to make fresh and nutritious food available to every child, giving them a “head start toward making smart, healthy food choices for life.”

Products are organized according to “a texture for every tyke.” The 6- to 8-month-olds can choose from four flavors — apple, pear, peas and squash — under the So Smooth label. Good Mushy (9-12 months) and Kinda Chunky (12-plus months) get more complex; flavors include Squapples and Baby Tex Mex. Homemade Baby’s Cordon Bleu chef, Troy Irvin, calls the flavors “taste adventures” perfect for “those little chewing muscles.”

Homemade Baby delivers anywhere in the USA. (If you live in the L.A. area, they guarantee next-day delivery to your front door.) Don’t want to pay for shipping? Not sure which products your child will like? Head to the tasting room at 10335 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Culver City, open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., where your child (and you!) can taste test new flavors and pick up an order. The tasting room also offers talks for parents concerning nutrition and other child development issues. Homemade Baby’s kosher certification is from Kosher Overseers of America, under the supervision of Rabbi Zvi Hollander.

For more information, call (800) 854-8507. For a link to Homemade Baby, visit


Coffee Co-op Brews Mugs of Peace

In his three decades at the helm of the Thanksgiving Coffee Co. in Fort Bragg, California, Paul Katzeff has pioneered the process of buying coffee beans directly from Third World growers and funneling money back to them after sales to promote economic self-sufficiency and social justice.

But Katzeff had never helped Jewish coffee farmers, who don’t usually figure in the ranks of those growers.

That changed with the recent release of Mirembe Kawomera, or “Delicious Peace,” a Fair Trade — and kosher — coffee produced by a new cooperative of Jewish, Muslim and Christian coffee farmers from the Mbale region of Uganda.

“We think this coalition is unique in all of Africa,” said coffee farmer J. J. Keki, leader of the 700-member Abayudaya Ugandan Jewish community that is at the core of the project.

It started 18 months ago when Katzeff got a phone call from Laura Wetzler, the Uganda coordinator for Kulanu, a Washington-based Jewish charity that promotes community-empowerment projects around the world. Wetzler travels to Uganda every January to help the community maintain its projects.

She asked Katzeff if he would be interested in buying five sacks of coffee from a group of local growers that she was trying to help.

“I rolled my eyes and said to myself, ‘Oh, here’s another young person touched by the poverty,'” said Katzeff, a Bronx native who cut his organizing teeth in the 1960s working with the East Harlem Tenants Council and organizing black workers in Mississippi.

“Then she said, ‘I’m from Kulanu, and I’m working with a group of Jewish coffee farmers here,'” Katzeff continued. “I said, ‘Come on, you’re kidding,’ and she said, ‘No.'”

Katzeff thought Wetzler must have called him because he, too, is Jewish, but she said she was just working her way through coffee companies and his was 41st on the list.

Then she told him she represented a cooperative of 400 coffee farmers organized by Keki, who was going door-to-door asking his Muslim and Christian neighbors to join the Abayudaya Jews to improve their general lot. The co-op was trying to circumvent price gouging by local middlemen and was looking for a foreign market.

Wetzler told Katzeff about the Abayudaya, descendants of a Ugandan general who adopted Judaism in the early 20th century. Today the Abayudaya are helped by various foreign Jewish organizations; they have a school, a synagogue and several small-scale economic projects and the community raises money through Jewish tourism and selling crafts and CDs of its music.

Katzeff was intrigued.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll buy all you’ve got, every single bit,'” said Katzeff, who had changed his own business practices following a 1985 trip to Nicaragua, when he realized “that the coffee industry was living off the sweat and blood of the coffee farmers.”

He began guaranteeing what has become known as a “Fair Trade price,” which he said is “20 to 40 cents a pound higher” than the usual price coffee farmers receive from the major companies and which doesn’t change with market fluctuations.

The idea that he could use his company to help Jews in Africa — Jews who had joined forces with Muslims and Christians — impressed Katzeff.

“They made a conscious decision to increase the size of their pie and share it for a better life, as opposed to what governments all over the world want them to do,” he said.

Coffee growing is the main income-producing crop of the Abayudaya and their neighbors, Keki noted. But coffee prices had dropped, and the farmers were discouraged.

“I thought, ‘We all do agricultural work, so let’s form a cooperative and sell our coffee together,'” Keki said.

After Keki formed the co-op, Wetzler made the connection with Katzeff and located a nearby cooperative that already had Fair Trade certification. Keki’s group buys from the local farmers and funnels the coffee through that Fair Trade co-op, which processes it and sends it to California.

Katzeff visited Uganda to sign the contract, spending Shabbat with the Abayudaya Jews. He said he was astounded by the primitive equipment the locals worked with. It takes 100 tons of “cherries,” or raw coffee fruit, to yield 37,500 pounds of green beans, the amount the co-op managed to produce this past year.

Keki and Katzeff signed a three-year agreement guaranteeing Fair Trade prices for all the coffee the cooperative can produce. Eighty percent of the money is put in an escrow account to be plowed back into developing the co-op’s infrastructure, with the goal of doubling output by next year. A dollar surcharge on each pound sold will be sent directly to the cooperative — hopefully yielding a further $30,000 this first season.

“I hope it will help us buy food and clothes and send our children to school,” said Keki, who has spoken widely in the United States, and is aware of the significance of his interfaith effort.

“Here we are using religion in the name of peace,” he said. “We hope that wherever our coffee goes in the world, it will promote peace.”

Noting that the cooperative has a Jewish president, a Christian vice president and a Muslim executive secretary — and that one-third of its board is made up of women — Katzeff describes the venture as “a shining light for peace” in the region.

Delicious Peace coffee is available at