As Chanukah draws near, we remember and celebrate the ancient victory of the Maccabees, restoring the Temple and our freedom to worship there. It inspires us to think of contemporary issues of freedom and liberation in general. The word “Chanukah” itself means “dedication,” so perhaps this holiday is a time to rededicate ourselves to seeking freedom and liberation for those who are unable to do so for themselves.
When I first learned about the issue of trafficked child labor in the cocoa fields, I immediately thought of the gelt that I’ve eaten every Chanukah since I was a young girl. The sweetness of its taste in my mouth while playing dreidel is deeply embedded in my memory. Now I was being introduced to its true bittersweet character.
Today, thousands of young children are trafficked and forced into working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where more than half the world’s cocoa is grown. Many have been kidnapped from surrounding countries and brought to the Ivory Coast against their will. They are forced to work long hours, often without pay; they do not receive any education. Their work involves hazardous chemicals and pesticides and the dangerous use of machetes.
The gelt we eat on Chanukah is a reminder of the freedom our people won many years ago. There is a choice that leans toward freedom: fair trade certification prohibits the use of child labor. This Chanukah, we can support the 85,000 member farmers of Kuapa Kokoo, a fair trade cooperative in Ghana who are co-owners of Divine Chocolate. The organization is democratically run, and their children attend school rather than work in the fields.
The Talmud teaches that we don’t rely on miracles; we must take action ourselves to bring about redemption. On Chanukah, we celebrate the miracles of ages past, and we strengthen our resolve to make miracles happen today. Choosing fair-trade Chanukah gelt moves us a step closer toward ending child labor and modern slavery around the world.
Here is a kavannah (intention) to enjoy with your fair-trade gelt from Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California: “I hold more than chocolate in my hand. This product I have purchased is a mixture of bitter and sweet flavors, but it contains no taste of slavery. As Chanukah is an eight-day reminder that light can penetrate darkness, may this experience of tasting sweet freedom, the bounty of free people’s work, inspire me to add more light to the world.”
You can find fair-trade gelt and free resources for Chanukah at Fair Trade Judaica.