Sunday, November 11, 2007

Making A Difference

Heksher Tzedek: A concept whose time has come, a concept being recognized as significant throughout the Jewish world. From the Jewish Daily Forward "Forward 50":

Pessimists have been warning for decades that as younger generations of Jews continued their acculturation into the American mainstream, those at the leading edge of the drift would float away from Jewish identity, leaving a smaller but more committed core. Optimists, if that’s the right word, predicted that the younger, more acculturated Jews wouldn’t disappear from the scene; rather, their Jewish identities would evolve in new and unpredictable ways, leaving the Jewish community as many small communities, with less and less identifiably in common.

This year’s Forward 50 list shows what look to us, at least, like clear signs of continental drift. When we sat down to take a long look at the community, what we found was not a hardening core surrounded by an evanescent periphery, but numerous pockets of identity taking shape on the landscape, most showing clear signs of solidity, but most quite disconnected from ― even unaware of ― the others. The list that emerged from our efforts reflects that changing topography.

The Forward 50 is not based on a scientific study or survey. The list is compiled each year by the Forward’s staff, based on what we have reported over the past year, what we have heard from community members speaking about other community members and whatever objective signposts ― rising or falling budgets, book sales, published buzz, adoption of new laws or proposals ― can be deemed to indicate public influence.

Membership in the 50 doesn’t mean that the Forward endorses what these individuals do or say. We’ve chosen them because they are doing and saying things that are making a difference in the way American Jews, for better or worse, view the world and themselves. Not all these people have put their energies into the traditional frameworks of Jewish community life, but they all have embodied the spirit of Jewish action as it is emerging in America, and all of them have left a mark…..

(listed under Religion)

Morris Allen
Until last year, Rabbi Morris Allen was known mostly as a local congregational rabbi and promoter of Jewish social justice efforts in the Minnesota Twin Cities area. That all changed when Allen decided to plunge headfirst into the billion-dollar kosher food industry. Prompted by a report in the Forward on working conditions at an Iowa kosher slaughterhouse, Allen pushed the Conservative movement to form a committee to look into the ethical and environmental implications of kosher food. The committee began its work by visiting the Iowa plant, the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, where Allen and others interviewed immigrant workers. Soon after, Allen announced the creation of Conservative Judaism’s Tzedek Hechsher or Justice Certification, a bold new effort to certify kosher food that is produced with ethical considerations in mind. For years, kosher food certification has been dominated by Orthodox authorities, and Allen sees the Tzedek Hechsher as a way of re-engaging Conservative Jews and his own congregants with the spiritual implications of the food they eat. This, not surprisingly, has won Allen the ire of many in the Orthodox world. Questions remain as to just how the new certification would work ― and it is clear that in this case the devil will be in the details. But Allen’s energies show no sign of flagging.