This week Jews all over the world will celebrate Passover with seders, the ritual meals that retell the Biblical story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. At the beginning of this retelling in the seder, the leader takes up the matzah, the unleavened bread, and says, "This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt." In this moment, the matzah recalls the oppression of slavery. Later in the seder, though, we are told that the matzah commemorates the hasty way in which we left Egypt, with no time for the dough to rise as usual. In this moment, the matzah represents redemption from slavery.
How does the matzah symbolize both oppression and freedom? A clue is given in the ritual that happens just before the leader declares, "This is the bread of affliction": The matzah is broken in half. Dividing the matzah is a concrete demonstration of the dual themes of slavery and liberation that it symbolizes. And between the transformation of the matzah from the bread of affliction to the bread of redemption is the retelling of the story of Passover. We remember our march out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom.
Throughout history, since that epic march out of Egypt, there have been many marches towards freedom. In that tradition, last month we joined the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) at a march in New York City. The CIW is a worker-based human rights organization, built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing. We have both visited Immokalee, home of the CIW, with T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which brings together rabbis and cantors to act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. For several years T'ruah rabbis and rabbinical students been inspired to work in solidarity with the courageous, committed farmworkers of the CIW.
The CIW has been fighting against farmworker abuse since 1993, first calling on growers to end abuses and raise pay. In the early 2000s, CIW changed their strategy, realizing that corporate buyers of the tomatoes they picked had a unique power over the agricultural industry, and could demand that their suppliers uphold human rights for farmworkers. CIW then reached out to consumers across the country to build a national network to call on these buyers to join what would become the Fair Food Program. Up to today, 14 participating retail buyers (including Subway, Whole Foods and Walmart) and the vast majority of the Florida tomato growers have joined the Fair Food Program to work with CIW to ensure workers are treated with dignity and have better wages and working conditions.
While all of Wendy's major competitors in the fast-food industry -- McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Chipotle -- have already joined the Fair Food Program, Wendy's has refused, choosing their public image over supporting human rights. Instead of joining the Fair Food Program and its widely-acclaimed, uniquely successful worker-driven model of social responsibility, Wendy's released their own code of conduct this past January. It contains no serious mechanisms for worker participation or enforcement, effectively guaranteeing that it will fail to protect workers from the indignity they experience. But they have gone even further in their refusal to ensure human dignity for workers: Wendy's has shifted its purchases from Florida to Mexico. Rather than support U.S. growers, setting new standards for human rights in the agricultural industry, Wendy's took its tomato purchases to a country with a horrible human rights record.
Despite being the target of a three-year consumer campaign and a year-long national student boycott, Wendy's has steadfastly refused to join the Fair Food Program, continuing instead to benefit from worker poverty. The CIW was left with no choice but to launch a national boycott of Wendy's and continue the fight for human dignity. T'ruah was one of the first national faith groups to endorse the boycott, and, as members of T'ruah, we both were proud to march with the CIW last month as it announced the boycott and continued to pressure the board chair of Wendy's, Nelson Peltz, to bring the company onto the Fair Food Program.
At our seders this year, we will have before us two pieces of one broken matzah. One represents the bread of our affliction in Egypt; the other represents the bread of our freedom as we leave our enslavement. As long as Wendy's continues to serve the bread of affliction, join us in refusing to eat it.
Mimi Micner, Rabbinical Student
Salem Pearce, Rabbinical Student and T'ruah Board Member
Hebrew College, Newton Centre, Mass.