After hearing the news over the summer that A&P Supermarkets had declared bankruptcy, I was excited to hear that Stop & Shop Supermarkets would be buying a number of the A&P locations, including Pathmark store which are owned by A&P. At the end of July, we learned that the Pathmark on Valley Street in South Orange, the closest and most convenient grocery store for many of us in town, would become a Stop & Shop. This news was not only exciting because this local market would get a much needed facelift, with a cleaner store and more product options. This was exciting because this means that the fight to end modern day slavery and exploitation of workers in the fields of Florida and across this nation — the fight for human rights of migrant agricultural workers in this country — continues to gain momentum and impact us locally.
Many are familiar with the Fair Food Program, as I’ve written about the this important program and the important work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers time and time and time again. Last year, as part of our recognition of T’ruah’s Human Rights Shabbat, Congregation Beth El screened the film Food Chains, as a reminder that our fight to ensure freedom, equality, and justice for all is far from over.
At the end of July, it was also announced that Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold USA — which also owns Giant Foods — was joining the Fair Food Program, making it the first major supermarket chain in the Northeast to join the program. Soon enough, we can rest assured that the tomatoes and produce we buy, the produce from our local supermarket, will be picked under humane conditions, ensuring that the laborers who work hard to bring the food from the fields to our tables are treated with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves. This soon-to-be Stop & Shop will join other local supermarkets, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, as part of the Fair Food Program and I hope that soon enough, other supermarket chains, restaurants, and food service providers will follow suit. The Fair Food Program has been so successful that the program’s labor rights education sessions have expanded from the tomato fields of Florida all the way to the farms of New Jersey, continuing to fight for the dignity of those who work in our own backyards.
We were reminded this past Shabbat, when reading Parashat Ki Teitzei, that our obligation to fight for the rights of these workers is a sacred obligation. We read in Deuteronomy 24:14:
You should not oppress a hired laborer that is poor and needy.
Furthermore, we are commanded just verses later in verse 17:
You shall not deprive a stranger of justice.
Fighting for the rights of every worker — from fellow colleagues and employees to those who work in the tomato fields — is holy work. We are taught that the Torah is Etz Chayim Hee, a Tree of Life, but the Torah — and the words of Torah — is only a Tree of Life, is only a living document, if our lives and our actions are guided by words of Torah. May we continue to work, advocate, and fight for the rights of workers. May we continue to work for the expansion of the Fair Food Program, ensuring that the Torah is a living document and guide in our lives.
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky