What do the tomato fields of Florida have to do with Passover? On Passover, we tell the story of how our ancient ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt. Sadly, the tomato growers of Florida have one of the worst reputations in the country for how they treat their workers, including workers being held against their will and sexual abuse. If this sounds like slavery to you, that’s because it is. But now, all this is changing.
For several years I have been following and supporting the work of T’ruah (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights, North America) and their partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a worker-based human rights organization founded in 1993. Since its founding, the CIW has begun to reverse the scourge of human slavery in the Florida tomato fields by getting buyers (such as Whole Foods, Taco Bell, McDonalds, and Subway) to pay a penny more per pound for the tomatoes they buy from the Florida growers. This may not sound like a lot, but for the field workers who pick thousands of pounds of tomatoes, a penny more per pound has made a significant difference in their lives. Some of the CIW’s other accomplishments have been to expose slave conditions and unfair labor practices, train their fellow farmworkers about their rights, help pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and launch the Fair Food Program in 2011 that has sparked a movement uniting farmworkers with social justice and faith organizations, as well as university students all over the country.
A few weeks ago, I returned from St. Petersburg, Florida, where I had the privilege of marching along with CIW members, fellow rabbis and ministers, members of local synagogues and churches, and college students to bring attention to the issue of “fair food”. I returned home with a renewed sense of commitment to address these injustices – hidden in plain sight.
During our Passover Seders, after the Shulchan Orech, the Festive Meal, we go to the next stage known as Tzafun, which is when we search for the Afikomen, that piece of broken matzah the Seder leader hides at the beginning of the Seder. To quote from T’ruah’s new Passover Haggadah: “Tzafun, which literally means ‘hidden’, is the part of the Seder where we seek what is not obvious, when we look for something other than what is in front of our faces.
It is also when we return to that which was broken earlier in the evening and try to make it whole again.” This Passover, let us not hide from the blight of modern-day slavery and brokenness of human trafficking. This Passover, put a tomato on your Seder plates and have a discussion about food production. Google T’ruah and CIW and learn about the Fair Food Movement. This Passover, let us bring wholeness to our society by helping to end modern-day slavery in our time.
A zisn Pesach/A sweet Pesach to all,