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BEKI takes aim at the ‘dark side’ of chocolate

The Board of Directors of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel has voted to require that all chocolate served at the synagogue carry certification stating that the chocolate has been screened against child slavery.

“This resolution reflects our continued commitment to tikun olam and ethically sourced products,” said President Yaron Lew, in reporting on the decision made at the congregation’s December 2021 board meeting. “We are progressing towards Ethical Kashrut, which goes beyond the laws of Kashrut and affirms our tremendous concern for our impact on our planet and humanity.”

Through an online ‘schmooze’ with a representative from Equal Exchange, a food co-operative that sells fairly traded and small farmer grown products, the congregation learned that much of conventional, commercial cocoa used to make chocolate is produced under conditions that use child labor and/or slavery.

Fair Trade is the name of one particular certification label as well as the common catch phrase which refers to economic equity for producers. While the issues are related, it is the problem of child slavery that is the focus of BEKI’s effort. Various certifying organizations have alternative primary missions, including the environment. BEKI currently accepts certifications from Fair Trade, UTZ, and Rainforest Alliance, as well as products from Equal Exchange.

While BEKI’s Kiddush teams, programming committee, and youth groups were already transitioning to more ethical chocolate prior to the Board decision, Lew says, “the Board felt that it is important to pass a Board resolution to close the gap and offer fair trade chocolate exclusively. Fair trade chocolate is becoming more mainstream in our area, and more places are considering adding it to their offering.”

Local kosher bakers, like Claire’s Corner Copia in downtown New Haven, now offer fair trade chocolate baked goods, and more offerings are being negotiated owing to requests by consumers, including BEKI. 

Other kosher, fair trade items are readily available online and in local supermarkets, including Stop and Shop brand cocoa powder or chocolate chips, Hershey’s organic miniatures, and Dove miniatures. BEKI arranged bulk orders of fair trade Hanukkah gelt and Passover chocolates for shul events and home consumption.

These efforts have been supported by BEKI’s Kiddush Committee, Green Team, and Social Action Tikun Olam Committee. In addition, BEKI is participating in the Shamayim Vegan Synagogue Challenge. Shamayim: Jewish Animal Advocacy is a national group that awarded grants this year to 11 synagogues across the country as part of their mission  to educate congregants about the Jewish, ethical, environmental, and health reasons for eating a plant-based diet.

BEKI hopes other Jewish institutions will join forces with them so as to advance the collective buying power of fair trade products. To find out more, visit BEKI.org.

PHOTO CAP: BEKI Building Manager Michael Barone (back), with Kiddush Team 2 leader Lana Gad (left), and Green Team member Becky May are part of BEKI’s fair trade chocolate initiative. 

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