02 August 2009

Food and Justice

We had a great presentation Sunday morning from a representative of Bema'aglei Tzedek, a social justice advocacy organization that is doing some really interesting and important work throughout Israel. Check out their website--there's Hebrew and English--to see what they're all about.

The main areas of focus for this dynamic young organization are eliminating poverty, creating greater access for those with disabilities and attempting to eliminate the sex trade here in Israel. Bema'aglei Tzedek has a great ability to reach thousands of high school students, who they are inspiring to service and activism in ways that we can imitate easily back in the States.

And one of the most interesting examples of that is the Tav Chevrati Certificate. Like a kosher certificate that hangs on prominent walls in restaurants so that those observing dietary laws can know if the restaurant is kosher or not, the Tav Chevrati Certificate indicates to customers that the workers are treated fairly, paid well, and that there is access to those with disabilities.

Here's a description from their site:

"The Tav Chevrati is a seal of approval granted free of charge to restaurants and other businesses that respect the legally-mandated rights of their employees and are accessible to people with disabilities.

This initiative encourages Israeli consumers to selectively patronize those businesses which have been awarded the Tav Chevrati, with the ultimate goal to encourage exponentially more businesses to uphold ethical and equitable business practices, while teaching consumers that they have the power to impact society.

The Tav Chevrati has already been awarded to 350 businesses throughout Israel and it is estimated that approximately 20,000 "unique visitors" have chosen to go to Tav Chevrati businesses in the last three months alone.

The Tav Chevrati, a pioneer in the field of Social Kashrut, is maintained by over 30 volunteer supervisors who perform monthly spot checks of Tav Chevrati certified establishments."


Last night I tested it out, having never really looked for the sign before and sure enough, where I chose to eat, right next to the basic kashrut sign was the Tav Chevrati. And I have to say, it was a different experience entirely eating in a restaurant where one has a sense that a certain ethical threshold had been met. There is in New York a similar movement afoot--Uri L'Tzedek--which offers a Tav HaYosher seal to businesses in New York that pass the ethical test as well.

It also be interesting to see about rallying high school students in New York, many of whom don't keep kosher, to develop a similar kind of program for restaurants in general. Imagine the most sought after commercial market of tweeners and high school kids demanding that where they put their dollars will be in places that treat their workers well?

The last line of Birkat Ha Mazon, the Grace After Meals, reads, "I was young and grew old and never saw a righteous person lacking bread." It offers a utopian vision of what kind of society, built on justice and compassion, one could sing about after a basic meal. An ideal not yet achieved, it offers a great level of living to strive for.

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