Wendy’s Serves the Bread of Affliction

This piece by rabbinical students Mimi Micner (Jewish Organizing Fellowship 2011 alum) and Salem Pearce (Don’t Kvetch, Organize! 2016 alum) was originally published on the Huffington Post.

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Photo featuring Salem Pearce from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers website.

This week Jews all over the world will celebrate Passover with seders, the ritual meals that retell the Biblical story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. At the beginning of this retelling in the seder, the leader takes up the matzah, the unleavened bread, and says, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt.” In this moment, the matzah recalls the oppression of slavery. Later in the seder, though, we are told that the matzah commemorates the hasty way in which we left Egypt, with no time for the dough to rise as usual. In this moment, the matzah represents redemption from slavery.

How does the matzah symbolize both oppression and freedom? A clue is given in the ritual that happens just before the leader declares, “This is the bread of affliction”: The matzah is broken in half. Dividing the matzah is a concrete demonstration of the dual themes of slavery and liberation that it symbolizes. And between the transformation of the matzah from the bread of affliction to the bread of redemption is the retelling of the story of Passover. We remember our march out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom.

Throughout history, since that epic march out of Egypt, there have been many marches towards freedom. In that tradition, last month we joined the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) at a march in New York City. The CIW is a worker-based human rights organization, built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing. We have both visited Immokalee, home of the CIW, with T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which brings together rabbis and cantors to act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. For several years T’ruah rabbis and rabbinical students been inspired to work in solidarity with the courageous, committed farmworkers of the CIW.

The CIW has been fighting against farmworker abuse since 1993, first calling on growers to end abuses and raise pay. In the early 2000s, CIW changed their strategy, realizing that corporate buyers of the tomatoes they picked had a unique power over the agricultural industry, and could demand that their suppliers uphold human rights for farmworkers. CIW then reached out to consumers across the country to build a national network to call on these buyers to join what would become the Fair Food Program. Up to today, 14 participating retail buyers (including Subway, Whole Foods and Walmart) and the vast majority of the Florida tomato growers have joined the Fair Food Program to work with CIW to ensure workers are treated with dignity and have better wages and working conditions.

While all of Wendy’s major competitors in the fast-food industry — McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Chipotle — have already joined the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s has refused, choosing their public image over supporting human rights. Instead of joining the Fair Food Program and its widely-acclaimed, uniquely successful worker-driven model of social responsibility, Wendy’s released their own code of conduct this past January. It contains no serious mechanisms for worker participation or enforcement, effectively guaranteeing that it will fail to protect workers from the indignity they experience. But they have gone even further in their refusal to ensure human dignity for workers: Wendy’s has shifted its purchases from Florida to Mexico. Rather than support U.S. growers, setting new standards for human rights in the agricultural industry, Wendy’s took its tomato purchases to a country with a horrible human rights record.

Despite being the target of a three-year consumer campaign and a year-long national student boycott, Wendy’s has steadfastly refused to join the Fair Food Program, continuing instead to benefit from worker poverty. The CIW was left with no choice but to launch a national boycott of Wendy’s and continue the fight for human dignity. T’ruah was one of the first national faith groups to endorse the boycott, and, as members of T’ruah, we both were proud to march with the CIW last month as it announced the boycott and continued to pressure the board chair of Wendy’s, Nelson Peltz, to bring the company onto the Fair Food Program.

At our seders this year, we will have before us two pieces of one broken matzah. One represents the bread of our affliction in Egypt; the other represents the bread of our freedom as we leave our enslavement. As long as Wendy’s continues to serve the bread of affliction, join us in refusing to eat it.

Mimi Micner, Rabbinical Student
Salem Pearce, Rabbinical Student and T’ruah Board Member
Hebrew College, Newton Centre, Mass.

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Spirit, History, and Community: Reflections on the JOIN Fellowship

This blog post is written by Jewish Organizing Fellow Danny Blinderman.  

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In 1963 Joachim Prinz, a Rabbi and President of the American Jewish Congress, addressed the March on Washington. He spoke, in his words, both as an American and as a Jew. As an American, he joined many others in protesting the chasm between American ideals and the reality of Jim Crowe segregation. Yet he devoted the bulk of his speech to how his Jewish identity and experience, both its spiritual and historical elements, moved him to action.

I first listened to this speech several years ago, and it instantly captivated me. Rather than enunciate progressive values and then claim that they were the same as Jewish ideals, he articulated a deep and powerful understanding of Judaism out of which progressive principles emerged. As someone who feels that my Jewish identity is the base upon which I build my story of why I care about working towards a just society, I wanted a similar grounding. I wanted to root myself in the Jewish tradition, and in Jewish community, so that I could hold fast to ideals of justice and liberation.

I came to the JOIN fellowship because of these questions, and my experience in it has only redoubled how powerful, important and necessary the learning we do together is. We’ve explored humanistic anti-capitalist understandings of Shabbat, challenged Ashkenazi-centrism that is often the resting pulse of our community, and worked to understand the contemporary justice lessons the Jewish diasporic experience hands down to us. We moved beyond the assumption that Judaism is progressive to the discernment of what strands of Judaism could serve as building blocks for a just world. Rather than trade in competing assertions of what lessons Judaism does or does not offer, we have constructed a justice-based understanding of Judaism that is not easily dismissed. For me, historical and spiritual questions have intermingled to create something beautiful and durable.

As powerful as it is to be grounded in these understandings of history and text, the crux of the Fellowship for me is the community we have built together. Jewish tradition teaches us that learning is not an individual enterprise. We live in a society that often seeks to isolate each of us and convince us to downplay critical parts of our own humanity. Community is essential to hold onto our complete selves and our vision of the world as we want it to be. We are meant to explore ourselves and our relationship to the world in communities that can hold us accountable with love. The work we are engaged in is difficult, and we often ask each other to dig into parts of ourselves long left undisturbed. I feel that the learning and community intertwine to create a space that feels, in its own way, sacred. Our shared experience has seeped into the space to create something more than just a place to hold weekly sessions. It is a place of study, of spirituality, of friendship and community. The curriculum is eye opening, but the community is soul enriching. I am grateful beyond words for both.

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JOIN for Justice is changing and we need your help

This post is by JOIN for Justice Executive Director Karla Van Praag.

JOIN for Justice is changing, and we need your help.

We are starting to focus more significant resources on how to adapt our Jewish Organizing Fellowship to better welcome and support Jews with marginalized identities. 
 
We seek to build a Fellowship class with people who are eager to explore the connections between their unique Jewish identities and working for social change. We also seek to build an inclusive community in which Jews of color, Jews with disabilities, Jews with working-class backgrounds, and trans and gender non-conforming Jews find a supportive environment that is focused on their leadership. We are working on actively recruiting and supporting Jews with marginalized identities in our Fellowship.

Over the years, as individuals with marginalized identities such as those mentioned above have participated in our Fellowship, we have heard feedback about the ways in which the Fellowship experience sometimes replicated larger societal oppressions, and also that people struggled with feeling alone in the group.

Our communal Jewish story compels us to fight for justice, yet our Jewish institutions often replicate larger societal oppressions, and JOIN for Justice is not immune to that.

And so, as a staff, as a board, and with a key team of alumni stakeholders, we’ve been doing some serious reflection.  How do we as an institution need to change? How do we consciously create the just world we envision, through our staff, our board, our program participation, and our training?  We have begun this process by asking stakeholders and alumni from marginalized identities about their ideas for how to approach the work and invited them to support and/or lead our efforts to change.

We fully expect that this will be a multi-year process to change our organization to be inclusive, supportive, and diverse. In many ways, we are only just beginning to define what success looks like. We know that we are examining the fellowship broadly – our curriculum, our fellowship structure, and what support we provide through the year. We also know we must consider the ways our entire organization must change.

We are grateful for the team of alumni and stakeholders who are working with us on this process to make us better than we are. We are approaching this work with an openness to learning and being challenged and an acknowledgement of the work that remains to be done to create this organization-and this world-as it should be.

I would welcome any thoughts, comments and suggestions you may have for us.  You can reach me by email here.

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Fighting for Environmental Justice in Massachusetts

Kate Rafey (Jewish Organizing Fellow ‘12-’13) interviewed Joel Wool (Jewish Organizing Fellow ‘12-’13) and wrote this story.

Joel Wool (Jewish Organizing Fellow‘12-’13) may work in the environmental movement to change policies and impact state governance, but he stays for the stories of resiliency and strength. What keeps Joel going are the people; what ignited his passion for organizing was anger. Using an environmental lens, he tackles interconnected social justice issues.

“The environmental movement is people taking care of their community, ensuring people are safe where they live, work and play,” Joel said. “It’s the story of a grandma cancer survivor fighting in her community, it’s the Latina committed to protecting the earth. It’s the immigrants caring about community, whether we’re talking about the earth or their town.”

Joel has been working at Clean Water Action since 2011. His hope is to see more clean energy distributed. One of his many current projects is with Massachusetts Power Forward, where Joel serves as Campaign Co-Coordinator. He organizes people to ensure that our state invests in clean energy resources.

Joel’s sense of community comes from his own experience. “I came into this [work] from being rooted in a neighborhood in Dorchester. Looking at [these issues] from a community-oriented perspective keeps me rooted,” he said.

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JOIN Fellowship alumni Joel Wool (left) and Kate Rafey (right)

While Joel has participated in different community organizing trainings in the past, JOIN for Justice taught him about relationship building and storytelling. He was involved and active in community organizing before the fellowship began but it took some time for him to process each session to connect with his coalition building.

JOIN’s intentional cultivation of leaders enabled deeper ties for Joel with individuals. Now, he uses storytelling all the time with people he’s meeting for the first time. In doing so, he has been lucky enough to engage with and support the amazing people fighting back against the fossil fuel industry.

One of Joel’s current organizing projects focuses in central Massachusetts with a population often neglected. Dismas House in Worcester, a home for healthy reentry for former prisoners through community work and support, is currently facing its own setback from the legislature as they fight for solar power and green weatherization. Other organizations in Worcester are interested as well, but the State favors utility companies. “We have to consider the bigger picture and choose the right path or there are going to be problems,” Joel said.

As a Jewish organizer, structural injustice and inequality resound with him. Many of the environmental injustices he approaches involve low income and minorities in these communities being, as Joel describes it, “boxed out” or kept from the decision- For him, Tikkun Olam is reality. “We are literally trying to repair the world, physically trying to build and rebuild communities into something better,” he said.

Joel plans on continuing his work in Massachusetts as an organizer for the foreseeable future, working on economic and racial issues with an environmental lens. “I am where I want to be at this point,” he said, “My goal right now is movement building.” Many people use him as a resource for empowering their own state actions. His work at the individual level will elevate movement building and take it to a different level. Currently, Joel is working on a Masters in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University.

For people who are concerned about the future of environmental justice in Massachusetts, Joel urges you to take action now. “The energy decisions we make in Massachusetts will affect the rest of the country. We need to start acting now,” he said.

If you would like to get involved with Joel’s work, please contact him: jwool@cleanwater.org

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Finding flint in Flint

This post is by JOIN for Justice Executive Director Karla Van Praag.

By now we’ve all heard the horrific story about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the massive government mismanagement, the lead-poisoned children and the systemic environmental injustice of the highest order.

So much of the coverage of this travesty focuses, on one hand, on the powerful individuals who decided that $100/day was too much to spend to be certain that an entire city would be kept safe and, on the other hand, about the nameless, faceless, oppressed Flint community. But I can’t stop thinking about Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who demonstrated lead levels in toddlers had doubled. Or Miguel Del Torel, the EPA official who leaked his report about the problems to the press after community activist Lee Ann Waltersreached out to him for help.

Many Americans until now only associated flint with a small piece of metal used to produce a spark to ignite a fuel. Now Flint has been personified. These people, and the many other community organizers whose names haven’t been as visible in the media, were the flint here, the spark that finally set the injustice alight.

These individuals, along with the community organizations who fought hard against dismissal, derision, and character attacks to gain attention for the issue, are one important part of the story we as organizers need to remember. Despite powerful efforts to squash people’s resistance and keep them quiet, there are always those who will take risks–with their jobs, with their safety, with their reputations–to uncover the truth and fight for what’s right. Given all of these risks, these people are up against a lot, and I’ve been finding myself thinking a lot recently about what role I can play to support them towards victory. What is my role in this struggle? What is yours? What will we do when we are called to be those heroes ourselves?

The folks on the front lines in Flint Michigan, the people putting their bodies on the line in direct action for Black Lives Matter, young Dreamers risking everything to fight for justice for undocumented immigrants and their communities–they challenge all of us to be better allies and better leaders.

I am proud of our work at JOIN for Justice to train organizers and leaders to join critical fights for justice throughout the country. We can all get better at embracing rather than pushing away the voices that challenge us, and we can all benefit from learning the skills to be better allies with the folks who are taking the biggest risks. And to be ready for when we must be flint ourselves.

If you’re in a place in your life where you want to invest in yourself as a leader and see how to build a spark, I encourage you to check out our organizing programs that are open right now.

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