Letters: Awareness Becoming Action

By Cara Judea Alhadeff, Ph.D

Each fall, I send out a variation of the following request to my communities:

Dear friends,

While buying Halloween candy this year please consider the links between many of the popular brands of chocolate and child slavery in the production of this cocoa.

The Peabody award-winning documentary, “Slavery a Global Investigation”, (https://vimeo.com/39383629) depicts the devastating suffering of children enslaved in the Ivory Coast cocoa industry. This cocoa is used by Hershey, Dagoba (now Hershey-owned), Mars, ADM Cocoa, Godiva, Fowler’s Chocolate, Kraft, Nestlé.* These children live in horrendous conditions, work relentlessly, covered in wounds and scars from vicious beatings, many of whom “disappear” after they were beaten until motionless. Aly Diabete, a freed slave told reporters: “The beatings were a part of my life. … Anytime they loaded you with bags (of cocoa beans) and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.” When told about the consumption of chocolate in the west, one child stated, “These people are eating my flesh.”

It’s critical that we buy alternatives when we can afford them: dried fruit, fruit leather, popcorn wrapped in parchment paper. Some fair-trade companies include: Endangered Species chocolates, EnviroKidz, Theo Chocolates.

I always receive mixed responses—ranging from very grateful (previously uninformed parents) to indifferent or angry (censoring school administrators who choose to “avoid politics”). I ask:

  • Given our cultural epidemic of entitlement and obsessive accumulation, how can we embody the lessons of the Sefirotic Tree of Life; how can we animate the Kabbalah (the ways we are all mutually interconnected) as a model and resource for compassionate living?
  • Social and emotional intelligence (EQ) are primary contemporary educational philosophies. How can we develop spiritual intelligence—an ever-evolving practice of Torah that reconfigures our most vital relationships?
  • How can we transform habitual behavior through a commitment to interfaith relations founded in an embodied recognition of Jewish awareness and practice?
  • How can we integrate Jewish tenets such as of bal tashchit, do not destroy or waste, as a commitment to empathy and compassion—in which awareness becomes action in our daily lives?
  • Embedded in Tloot Hadadit radikali, radical interdependency, how can we recalibrate our normalized relationship to consumption/disposal habits that we know harm our children and children around the world?
  • How can citizen-activists embody symbiotic solutions as we transition from our petroleum-pharmaceutical-addicted cyber-culture to an interfaith social permaculture—one that inspires, educates, and mobilizes peoples of diverse religious backgrounds?
  • Investigating practices that integrate the civic and sacred as a commitment to interfaith eco-dialogue and collaborative action, how can we manifest engagement, wonder, and moderation we learn from Jewish traditions including, the laws of Sh’mitah, the Sabbatical years and Yovel, the Jubilee years: generosity and agriculture, including gleaning, eco-kashrut practices, restoring balance to the land, forgiving debt, and multiple interpretations of fertility?

We can explore many of these answers through Jewish and Islamic practices: tikkun olam (repairing our world), Pirkei Avot (collective healing through Jewish ecological values and ethical teachings), Sephardi histories of convivencia (interfaith coexistence), Orthodox practices of musar (individual behavioral ideals—striving to live an ethical life), and the Islamic moral construct of adab (creatively living one’s deepest values). Reflecting “May your innards rejoice in foods whose seeds are righteous,” Talmud Bavli: B’rachot 17a (Kol Haneshamah), the main characters’ prayers in my book, Zazu Dreams, call for Kabbalistic interconnected righteousness: 

We prayed to our revered tzaddik for an end to profit-driven biocide; we prayed for an end to the monoculture of the mind; we prayed for ecological intelligence to help us figure out how to encourage people to connect the dots between environmental justice and human rights, and act together to stop the suffering of people whose lands and water are poisoned and stolen; we prayed for a transition from a global extraction economy to a global regenerative economy… (Cara Judea Alhadeff, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era, 60).

Jewish culture has always had to navigate diverse points of view in both theology and praxis. Puevlo de Yisrael, or according to Sephardic rabbis, “Kelal Yisrael,” is an ideal that is possible as we learn to integrate the spectrum of ideologies that exists among all of our cultures—this concept is rooted in biodiversity or “unity in diversity,” rather than a monoculture or homogenizing “oneness.” As Executive Director of Jews Of The Earth (JOTE) and as a Sephardic writer/activist/mother focusing on social justice and ecological consequences, I suggest that each of us explore how malnourished and displaced peoples are intricately connected with impoverished soils and seas—the consequences of consumerism. We can then unravel our own physical and spiritual malnourishment—working collaboratively to ignite justice and a sense of wonder in our everyday lives.

*Nestlé is the primary villain in my recent book on Jewish mysticism, agribusiness, climate justice, and environmental racism, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017, http://zazudreams.com).

About Dr. Alhadeff:

Dr. Cara Judea Alhadeff is a scholar/activist/artist/mother whose work engages feminist embodied theory. Since 1991, she has taught Social Ecology courses, while lecturing and collaborating on Sephardic Jewish cultural diversity. Summa cum laude, Alhadeff earned her Ph.D. (2012) in Cultural Studies from The European Graduate School (EGS). Her book, Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014), demonstrates art as social practice by exploring the vulnerability of the body as a strategy for collaborative justice. In addition to Alhadeff’s cross-cultural climate justice book, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017), her current Petroleum-Parenting, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Convenience-Culture: How Marketing Fear and “Fake-Science” Shape Our Cultural Norms, co-authored with Dr. Stephanie Seneff (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018), explores the intersections of environmental racism, racial hygiene, global corporatocracy, and the misogynist pharma-addictive health industry. She has published interdisciplinary essays in eco-literacy, philosophy, art, gender, and ethnic studies’ journals and anthologies, and has been interviewed throughout Europe, Asia, and the US (including KGNU, Pacifica Radio and Alternative Radio). The subject of several documentaries for international public television, her performative photographs have been publicly defended by Freedom of Speech organizations (Electronic Freedom Foundation, artsave/People for the American Way, and the ACLU), and are in numerous collections including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jewish Museum in Berlin, Museum of Modern Art in Salzburg, Austria, and Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Executive Director of Jews Of The Earth (JOTE) and former professor of Performance & Pedagogy at UC Santa Cruz and Critical Philosophy at The Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS), Alhadeff lives and parents a zero-waste lifestyle. (www.carajudea.com/ www.zazudreams.com)

About Staff

They call me "NewsHound IV," because I'm a clever Finnegan, sniffing out stories all over the Boulder area. I love Jewish holidays because the food is GREAT, especially the brisket. Well all the food. I was a rescue pup and glad to be on the scent!

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