When most people hear the term “fair trade,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Coffee, most likely, or maybe expensive chocolate.
It’s probably not menorahs — but the Fair Trade Judaica Fair might just change that.
On Sunday, Oct. 17, the JCC of the East Bay will host the first-ever fair to focus exclusively on mezuzahs, kippahs, Jewish cards, banners, jewelry and other Judaica produced using sustainable practices, under fair labor conditions, around the world. The free event was created by Berkeley’s own nonprofit Fair Trade Judaica and co-sponsored by San Francisco’s Jewish diversity initiative Be’chol Lashon.
“We wanted to make a splash,” says Fair Trade Judaica founder Ilana Schatz. “We want people to see how many fair trade choices there really are.”
Since founding FTJ in 2008, Schatz has been working with artisan groups in Guatemala, South Africa, Mexico, Peru and other countries, helping to bring their crafts to the U.S. for sale. In the case of the upcoming fair, the group has partnered with artists’ groups such as MayaWorks, a group of weavers in Guatemala, to create Judaica items — such as the first fair trade tallit, which will be available at the fair.
How did artisans in places without large Jewish populations start producing Judaica in the first place? In many cases, says Schatz, such as with South Africa’s African Home, the artists’ groups are run by Jewish women. But other groups have more whimsical backstories.
“MayaWorks are renowned for their hand-crocheted kippot,” explains Schatz. “But it all started when someone taking a tour happened to see one of their Hacky Sack balls before it was sewn up and said ‘Hey, that would make a great kippah!’ ”
Schatz hopes the fair will serve to spread the good word about how easy it is to be a conscious consumer — and possibly clear up some misconceptions.
When it comes to fair trade, it’s important to know what you’re buying, she explains. Currently, the system is such that anyone can claim a product is fair trade, and a lot of entrepreneurs are ready to take advantage of that, even with Judaica: It’s called fairwashing. (Schatz says a fair trade dreidel came out last year that turned out to be a fake.)
FTJ urges shoppers to look for the logo; there’s a breakdown on Fair Trade Judaica’s website (www.fairtradejudaica.org) about identifying both fair trade food and handicrafts.
Diane Tobin, director of Be’chol Lashon, hopes the diversity of items at the fair — and the wide range of their origins — will serve as a reminder that Jews are far from a homogeneous group.
“We live in a global society, and Judaism should reflect that growing identity … This is an opportunity for us to create awareness of the global nature of the Jewish people,” Tobin says, adding that it doesn’t stop with crafts. Be’chol Lashon has been working with communities in South Africa and Guatemala to make health care more available, provide access to clean water, and work toward sustainable economic development in parts of the world she says should be seen as pieces of the global Jewish community.
“I think most people are aware of Jews with European backgrounds, Americans and Israelis, but Jews have been around the world forever, in various ways,” Tobin says. “We’re not just white, we’re not just American we’re not just Israelis. And what a great way to show that.”
The Fair Trade Judaica Fair will take place Sunday, Oct. 17 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the JCC of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. For more information, visit www.fairtradejudaica.org and subscribe to the newsletter.