Boston Jewish Community Marches for Fair Food

This past Sunday, as I marched with nearly 1,000 others, passing by 5-star hotels, bewildered tourists and students, I felt proud to be holding the new “Boston Jews for Fair Food” banner. A group of interfaith individuals, we were marching in support of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers and the “penny per pound” campaign. The campaign, which Whole Foods, Taco Bell and even McDonalds have already signed on to, promises one more cent paid per pound of tomatoes collected by workers in the Immokalee section of Florida, one of the largest tomato growing regions in the country (workers currently receive 50 cents for every 32 pounds they pick.) More specifically, we were protesting the Massachusetts-based Ahold company, which owns Stop and Shop grocery stores, and has refused to sign on to the agreement.

To start off the rally, two local rabbis stood in front of the crowd to give an invocation and read a segment of an interfaith statement endorsing the CIW campaign: “In Judaism, food matters — from how our food is harvested to the act of eating itself… Ensuring fair wages and working conditions for the people who grow our food has its roots in Biblical law,” said Rabbi Toba Spitzer of Dorshei Tzedek.

Throughout the rally and march, alongside the 69 farm workers who came up from Florida and a variety of other groups from across the Northeast, contingents from at least five Boston-area Jewish groups, played an integral role in marching through the streets.

But this is not where this battle started for the Jewish community. Representatives of the five groups — Boston Workmen’s Circle, Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA), the Jewish Labor Committee and Moishe/Kavod House’s Farm to Shul initiative — have worked together over several months to bring the workers’ struggle to the forefront of their members’ and community partners’ attention.

Representatives of Dorshei Tzedek have been sending campaign postcards to Stop and Shop for over a year and have participated in several interfaith delegations to meet with the corporate management of Ahold. The Workmen’s Circle’s organized their own protest of Stop and Shop in partnership with the CIW back in December. Their street band called “Un Centavo Mas,” (One Cent More) led the crowd in a rousing cheer from the stage to launch the march. JALSA had played host earlier this month when interfaith leaders met with Ahold’s management to again ask for their cooperation with the workers’ demands. We at Moishe Kavod House had worked with a group of local youth to [create signs for the march][5] and brought the CIW’s organizer to speak to over 60 Shabbat attendees last week.

Finally, the JLC was instrumental in building support among a large swath of rabbis for the interfaith statement, including the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, which has been involved in similar food-labor issues. “Oppression of laborers is forbidden by Torah. The ethics and morality of the treatment of the laborers is a basic principle of Judaism,” Sheila Decter, Executive Director of JALSA, said.

The day made me overwhelmingly proud, not only to be marching with so many of my friends, but that the Jewish community is playing such an integral role in protecting those who create the food in our shopping carts. The day revealed that the Jewish community of Boston is ready to use its voice to stand in solidarity with workers throughout our food system.

And this is just the beginning of new partnerships to come. While the outcome of the rally and last month’s meeting with Ahold management is not yet known, interfaith partners are talking about follow up measures to continue to bring awareness and put pressure on Ahold, drawn from the moral imperatives of our traditions. This will surely carry us forward and help bring us closer to “Un Centavo Mas” for all agricultural workers.

Aliza R. Wasserman studied food and agriculture policy and works for a local public health department. She is the founder of the three-year old “Farm-to-Shul” effort based at the Moishe Kavod House in Brookline, MA.

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Boston Jewish Community Marches for Fair Food

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