Menorah from El Salvador sheds light on socially conscious gifts

Scouring the shelves for one-of-a-kind Chanukah gifts can be a tireless, often futile activity.

Everything is blue, white or silver. Everything resembles a dreidel or Jewish star, or comes with a stuffed animal holding one or the other. And at the end of a long shopping day, even the menorahs can start to look the same.

So when Global Exchange, a purveyor of myriad socially conscious gifts with stores in San Francisco and Berkeley, started offering a few fair trade Chanukah items, director and buyer Abby Edelman jumped in with a design of her own.

“I saw there was a gap in fair trade Judaica,” said Edelman, 26, of San Francisco. “There was a growing need and interest within the progressive Jewish community to buy items that reflect their values.”

Inspired by a friend whose family originated in El Salvador, Edelman created a menorah through her work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s Jeremiah Fellowship, an educational program that trains young adults to be Jewish social justice leaders.

Constructed of pine from a Chilean reforesting project, the menorah’s base features daily scenes of life in the Salvadorian countryside. The artwork, a mixture of vibrant red and blue hues, is hand-painted with toxin-free paints in the same San Ignacio workshop where the menorahs are assembled.

Edelman said the workshop is not only creating jobs, but also turning a profit. Nearly all of the money earned from the menorah sales benefits the Tin Marin Children’s Museum in San Salvador, a popular destination for children living in the surrounding areas. Five percent of the profits go back to Global Exchange for operational costs.

Menorahs were given to congregants at El Salvador’s only synagogue, which brought excitement to a community that was accustomed to seeing only crosses, not symbols of Judaism.

“I wanted to create something that I felt personally connected to,” Edelman said. “It was the culmination of a lot of interests — the Jewish piece of me, the fair trade piece of me and my connection to El Salvador.”

This year, Global Exchange is offering additional items for Chanukah such as beeswax menorah candles, kosher gold coins (gelt) made from cocoa grown by farmers in Ghana and a “Shalom” greeting card set created by the English Speaking Residents Association in Israel.

There’s also a fair trade Chanukah gift basket that includes the aforementioned products, plus kippahs crocheted by weavers from the Guatemala Highlands, a “Shalom” banner created by artisans in Mexico and coffee from a co-op in Uganda that has Jewish, Muslim and Christian members.

Given the sluggish economy, Edelman said business has slowed a bit. However, the popularity of the Chanukah gifts hasn’t wavered. As of right now, Global Exchange doesn’t have plans to increase its Judaica offerings, but Edelman said there’s always a possibility for the development of new products.

“Jews are really thinking about the way we celebrate our religion and the values it holds dear,” Edelman said. “Fair trade is a great celebration of the true, international spirit of Judaism. It reaches Jews in every corner of the world.”