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Food

Hanukkah Gelt’s Dark (Chocolate) Backstory

Buying fair trade chocolate — in the form of gelt, or even sufganiyot — makes particular sense on Hanukkah, when we celebrate freedom from tyranny. Photo courtesy of Ilana Schatz.

When I first learned about the issue of trafficked child labor in cocoa fields, I immediately thought of the gelt that I’ve eaten every Hanukkah since I was a young girl. The sweetness of its taste in my mouth while playing dreidel is deeply embedded in my memory.

But now I had been introduced to its true bittersweet character.

Today, young children are trafficked and forced into working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where more than half the world’s cocoa is grown. Many have been kidnapped from surrounding countries and brought to the Ivory Coast against their will. They are forced to work long hours, often without pay, and receive no education. Their work involves hazardous chemicals and pesticides and dangerous machetes.

Today, young children are trafficked and forced into working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where more than half the world’s cocoa is grown. Many have been kidnapped from surrounding countries and brought to the Ivory Coast against their will. They are forced to work long hours, often without pay, and receive no education. Their work involves hazardous chemicals and pesticides and dangerous machetes.

As Hanukkah draws near, we remember and celebrate the Maccabees’ ancient victory, which restored the Temple and our freedom to worship. It inspires us to think of contemporary issues of freedom and liberation more generally. The word “Hanukkah” itself means “dedication,, so perhaps this holiday is a time to re-dedicate ourselves to seeking freedom and liberation for those who are unable to do so for themselves.

The gelt we eat on Hanukkah is a reminder of the freedom our people won many years ago. We have a choice to lean toward freedom today by buying products with fair trade certification, which prohibits child labor.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 39b) teaches that we don’t rely on miracles; we must take action ourselves to bring about redemption. On Hanukkah, we celebrate the miracles of ages past, and we strengthen our resolve to make miracles happen today. Choosing to buy fair trade chocolate moves us a step closer to ending child labor and modern slavery around the world.

Eating fair trade chocolate on Hanukkah need not be confined to gelt…You can also use it to fill that quintessential Hanukkah dessert: the sufganiya.

Menachem Creditor, rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California, composed the following reflection, or kavannah, which you can enjoy before eating fair trade chocolate this Hanukkah, be it gelt or sufganiyah filling:

“I hold more than chocolate in my hand. This product I have purchased is a mixture of bitter and sweet flavors, but it contains no taste of slavery. As Hanukkah is an eight-day reminder that light can penetrate darkness, may this experience of tasting sweet freedom, the bounty of free people’s work, inspire me to add more light to the world.”

Ilana Schatz is the founding director of Fair Trade Judaica. Fair trade gelt and free resources for Hanukkah can be found through Fair Trade Judaica’s website.

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