I was driving around New Jersey running errands when my phone started buzzing. One text read, simply, “We won!” The second text provided more information: “Trader Joe’s signed!” After several years of organizing, and right before a weekend of more than 40 protests scheduled around the nation, Trader Joe’s became the second grocery store chain to sign a Fair Food Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), guaranteeing a wage increase for tomato pickers and ensuring that company will only buy from growers who agree to a code of conduct in the fields.
(You can read some previous Pursue blog coverage of the CIW and its campaigns here, here, here, and here.)
Farm work is one of the most dangerous and low paid work in the United States. Because farmworkers are exempt from most labor and minimum wage laws, wages for farmworkers have not rise in years. The Florida agricultural sector is particularly notorious, with slavery and human trafficking rampant (one federal prosecutor called Florida “ground zero” for modern slavery in America.”) The CIW is a unique, workers-organized coalition creating a better future by going straight to the top, negotiating directly with corporations and big growers. Read more →
When I think about the words “human rights,” my gut instinct is to think about a scale of action that is beyond the personal and immediate. Human rights seem to be about states and their citizens, and the atrocities that can result when the inherent dignity of the latter is forgotten by the former. The images that come to mind are of torture, prisoners of war or of conscience, or attacks on demonstrators. I don’t think about human rights in my own backyard, in the products I buy every day, or how I can utilize human rights in my relationships with the people I encounter in my daily life.
But in Jewish tradition, when we read in Genesis 1:17 that every human being is created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God, that statement is aimed at each of us and how we live our lives. We have to challenge ourselves to treat our fellow human beings as having inherent, sacred worth, no matter how different they are from us or whether we agree with them. It is an infinite value against which we can evaluate our daily interactions: Was this product produced in a way that treats its workers as reflections of the divine image (in how they were paid or whether they are free from fear and intimidation)? Am I working with other members of my community towards greater understanding, even we disagree on the issues that are most precious to me? Do I stand by while our government creates policies that treat our enemies as less than human? Read more →
December 10th marks the 62nd anniversary of the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UDHR, written as a response to the atrocities of the Shoah and the Second World War, was a groundbreaking document proclaiming the universal values of equality, freedom, and justice, and serves as the philosophic basis for international human rights law. When you read the UDHR, you are reminded of Jewish ideals like tzelem Elohim, the idea that everyone of us is created in the image of God, and k’vod habriot, human dignity. One rabbi I know says that International Human Rights Day (December 10) should be celebrated by Jews everywhere as a yom tov like Sukkot or Pesach, so important and essential to us are human rights. In recognition of the connections between Judaism and human rights, Rabbis for Human Rights North America invites people to join with us in celebration of our third Human Rights Shabbat.
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