Over the last few decades, buying fair trade products – goods that are farmed, created, traded, and packaged in a way that is economically sustainable for the farmer or craftsman, ecologically sustainable for the earth, and high quality for the consumer – has started to catch on in a big way. Fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolate can be found in many cafes, and more and more, people are seeking out fairly traded clothes, gifts, and home goods.
In 2008, Ilana Schatz, took the conversation a step further by launching Fair Trade Judaica, an organization that links Jewish values with the fair trade mission. From their popular fairly traded kippot (yarmulkes) and honey for Rosh Hashanah, to their woven challah covers and “guilt free” Hanukkah gelt, they make it possible to live a vibrant, ethical Jewish life.
Recently, we spoke with Fair Trade Judaica board member (and former Repair the World fellow!) Perry Teicher, to talk about what inspires him, the deep connections between the fair trade movement and Jewish values, and his favorite fairly-traded head coverings.
Tell us about your background with social change and volunteer work.
After undergrad at the University of Michigan, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan. Those two years in Kazakhstan were among the most meaningful in my life. They pushed me to challenge my assumptions and place in the world. Growing-up, my parents made it a priority to volunteer together and share stories of our relatives’ commitment to social justice. These values led me to Kazakhstan and to my time as a Repair the World fellow. They continue to influence me today, particularly in my work with Fair Trade Judaica, JDC Entwine, and in Detroit more broadly.
How did you first get involved with Fair Trade Judaica, and what drew you to their mission?
I met their founder, Ilana Schatz, at the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship in Cambridge, UK in 2013. I was impressed with her idea that the fair trade concept embodies essential Jewish values. I also liked her vision of building an organization that shares this message on a broader basis.
What does Jewish tradition have to add to the Fair Trade conversation?
Jewish values of tzedek and equality are central to the Fair Trade conversation. The idea of linking production to the end consumer and refocusing the process of ownership to one of direct connection between those individuals creating a product and the person buying the product creates a sense of shared humanity.
Can you share an anecdote or story that demonstrates the impact you’ve seen Fair Trade Judaica have?
At a recent Passover Seder we were talking about Fair Trade products, and while most people were thoughtful about the source of their food, were concerned about fair wages, and saw how Judaism shares values with these ideals, none had any idea of how to connect their practice of Judaism to these “secular” activities. Fair Trade Judaica provided a path to imbue this “secular” space with Jewish values, open another interesting conversation over the seder, and hopefully create new partners.
Bonus question: What is your favorite product that Fair Trade Judaica offers and why?
I’m a big fan of our kippot. Like everything we source, each kippah has a unique story and I look at each one and know it’s something I’d be proud to wear.