Spiritual resources: Lenten reflection #2 and a d'var Torah for Shabbat Zachor 5778

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Throughout the season of Lent, pastors and other Christian leaders who are in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will offer short Lenten reflections that intersect this holy time of discipline and self-determination with the ongoing struggle for Fair Food. These reflections will be released to our Interfaith Network every week between February 14 and March 28.

Today, we combine a Lenten reflection by Joshua Baudin, Youth Minister at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Marco Island, FL with a D'var Torah for Shabbat Zachor 5778 written by T'ruah "Tomato Rabbi" Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner, Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, Georgia. 

Lenten Reflection #2

Psalm 25 : Of David

1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3 Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths.

4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. 

5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting.

 

6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord. 

7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. 

8 He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly.

9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

  Coalition of Immokalee Worker member Silvia Perez and Joshua Baudin

Coalition of Immokalee Worker member Silvia Perez and Joshua Baudin

We recently rescued a pup from Humane Society Naples. Dug is 60 pounds of seriously fun energy, and trying to figure out his place in our home. Each day, he tests the lines with my three young girls. Whose food is whose? What blanket can I use? What toys are off limits? Often when my two year old, Margaret, walks out of her bedroom with her baby Elsa doll, Dug is lying in wait just outside the door, ready to capture Elsa from Margaret’s grasp. Enemies! Then, the chase is on. As I join the pursuit we make several laps past Dug’s training mat. A place where we practice his “stay” command. With much love and persistence, we have worked up to about a minute of staying. That mat is a place of hope and promise of things to come. It is a glimpse of where we are headed.

The concept of enemy is introduced early in the Psalms. In Psalm 3:1 we read, “Oh Lord, how many are my foes?”. The enemies in Psalms are not directly identified, but it’s known that these enemies have no use for God and God’s will. Their behavior is misleading, destructive, violent, and sometimes deadly. The enemies may be anything or anybody that opposes God’s will for justice, righteousness, and peace in the world. This invites us as present-day readers of the Psalms to identify our own enemies.

These poem writers frequently ask God to take care of their enemies. Their words often sound vengeful. Remember, the writers had been severely mistreated. The real sentiment behind these prayers was not payback, but a desire for God to set things right for those who were being threatened. The psalmist’s prayers for God to do something were acts of hope and cries for justice. They prepare us to hear the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). 

Friends, our acts of hope are noticed. Our cries for justice are heard. As we work with love and persistence in the pursuit of justice for our neighbors in Florida’s tomato fields, can you see that place of hope and promise? Can you see it? Even in the moments when you feel as if you are just running in circles? With each day, with each action, with each moment of better understanding one another we move closer to the reality of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

D'var Torah for Shabbat Zachor 5778

"Packaging a Mitzvah"

Originally written for T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

  Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner

Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner

Purim is almost here and in my home we are busy preparing our Mishloach Manot baskets to deliver to family and friends. It’s important to me that we select only the finest products to fulfill this important mitzvah of Purim, so I always look for an American equivalent of Pri Etz Hadar (the beautiful etrog); vine ripened tomatoes, organic grapes, oranges and nuts, fair trade chocolates and cute bottles of 100% juice. It’s a mitzvah I love and have strived to “do it right”.  And until recently, I was unaware of a particular issue that had been silently tainting the sanctity of my mitzvah-doing for years.

“You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land.”(Deuteronomy 24:14) Torah explicitly prohibits the mistreatment of workers, as all humans are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  Specific prohibitions include lo ta’ashok,  oppressing workers and delaying their payment. (Leviticus 19:13).

Many of us have a naive understanding of from where our food comes or by whom it is harvested, and the conditions of those work areas.  Laborers work for low wages and often without protections for their basic human rights: water breaks, access to bathrooms, shelter from the heat. Wages are withheld or stolen outright.  In the fields, female workers are the most vulnerable, with 4 in 5 experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault on the job.

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Immokalee, Florida, to join the ranks of Truah’s #TomatoRabbis to learn from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The history of forced labor in the U.S. agricultural industry, and specifically in the Southern tomato fields, is a difficult and disturbing narrative. The light in this story is reflective of the themes of we hear in the Purim Megillah. Twenty years ago, because of the bravery of a few souls willing to risk everything to reveal themselves and say no more to sexual violence and harassment, the Campaign for Fair Food was born.  Today, we see how the FFP has changed the lives of countless farm workers.

When one walks into the small CIW headquarters building, a poster of a proud woman, a field worker,  holding a basket of tomatoes on her shoulder greets you. Her countenance reminded me of a biblical heroine; and this brings me back to Purim and my mishloach manot baskets.

Throughout time, speaking truth to power, has been wrought with danger.  When Queen Vashti (Esther 1:12-19) refuses to be exploited, she is banished (possibly killed)—a punishment deliberately enacted to instill fear of retribution in others who might consider rising up. Unlike the G-rated beauty pageant version of the Megillah we tell our children, Esther comes into the story vulnerable and powerless, and will remain in that state until realizing that she is inexorably linked to the fate of her people; with nothing left to lose, she rises up. (4:13-16)

From extreme poverty to sexual harassment and even modern-day slavery, farmworkers have faced abuses at work for as long as anyone can remember.

The brave women who work in these fields of Immokalee came to the same place of #NoMore; the time had come to take the risk and come out of the shadows to expand critical human rights protections, and redeem their neighbors.

Today, the CIW and Fair Food Program are growing, but much awareness is still needed, so that all those who harvest the fruits and vegetable of this country are treated with kavod, dignity.

Many of us strive to do the right thing,  but too often ignorance blinds us. To act with compassion and purpose, we must become educated, open our eyes and ears to the cries of those who live behind the scenes, and make decisions that show our support and our desire for a better and more just society. When I shop this week to fill my mishloach manotgift baskets, I will be looking for those products that are harvested by companies who participate in the FFP. Together, we can bring more light and holiness into our world.

“The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.” (8:16) Hag Purim Sameach!