Wear a Kosher Kippah atop a guilt-free head

The laws of kashrut dictate that the condition in which the animals we eat are kept and the manner in which they are killed must be, for lack of a better word, humane.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance wonders why we should have a higher standard for chickens than people; why should Jews buy clothing from manufacturers who treat their employees like animals?

That’s what the “Kosher Kippah” is all about.

“We like to broadly define the word ‘kosher’ so it’s about not only how food is prepared but how workers are treated,” said Sarah Leiber Church, the PJA’s Bay Area program director.

“A kosher kippah is one that’s made under fair working conditions.”

The introduction of kashrut headwear is in conjunction with the PJA’s designation of March as “Sweatshop Awareness Month.” This month was chosen not only because it’s already International Women’s Month, but also because of the anniversary of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25 — in which 146 young, female and largely Jewish garment workers died when a fire broke out on the upper floors of a 10-story building in which the employees had been locked to prevent theft and the infiltration of union organizers.

“When we look at global factory conditions today, we see some similarities. It’s mostly a young, female workforce. Last year, there was a fire in a Bangladeshi factory and the conditions were very similar. The doors were locked to keep the women from stealing clothes, just like at the Triangle factory,” said Leiber Church.

“The faces change, but the story remains the same. We, the Jewish community, have the ability to live our values through the things we choose to purchase.”

The PJA highlights three kippah providers. Hailing from New Jersey, Unionwear.com produces in bulk yarmulkes that you might find in the vestibules of any synagogue in America.

Leiber Church said that bulk orders from the site cost a little more than obtaining non-union fare, but only a little.

And, for between $8 and $15, one could obtain a South American knit yarmulke from either MayaWorks.org or GlobalGoodsPartners.org. Those sites engage collectives, which make decisions based on workers’ best interests as opposed to manufacturers’.

Joining larger coalitions, the PJA has already convinced the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley as well as the Los Angeles school board and U.C. system to sign procurement ordinances that require “sweatshop-free” garments. A number of local Jewish summer camps have also made the agreement.

“The tide is turning so that it will become advantageous for workers in the developing world to have better conditions to get this so-called hechsher,” or kosher certification, said Rachel Biale, the PJA’s Bay Area regional director.

“What needs to be done domestically is to create wide, public opinion that it’s unacceptable to buy clothes made by children and in unacceptable work conditions.”

Those conditions, incidentally, include documented cases of Chinese garment workers using clothing pins to keep their eyes open for 20-hour shifts.

On Friday, March 23, Biale is slated to speak at Los Altos Hills’ Congregation Beth Am’s Shabbat services about unfair labor conditions. Details are being finalized for her to bring along a worker from Emeryville’s Woodfin Suites Hotel, which recently fired roughly 20 workers, allegedly for attempting to organize.

For more information about the PJA’s Kosher Kippahs or sweatshop campaign, visit www.pjalliance.org.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.