Our best wishes and prayers go with Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei and those who heads for Immokalee today with one agenda: "to add light to darkness."
Schuldenfrei, of Bet Shira Congregation in Pinecrest, has teamed with the Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida to do something about the plight of Florida’s tomato workers.
On the Jewish calendar, this is the ninth day of the month of Av (known in Hebrew as Tisha B’Av), and today is a Jewish day of suffering. So it is befitting that the rabbi is asking the community to come together to alleviate the suffering of other, said his friend Robert Krantzler.
So far, about 20 people, in a caravan of cars, will take the approximately three-hour trip to the tomato farms in Immokalee.
"As Jews, we have an obligation to... add light where there is darkness," Schuldenfrei said.
Schuldenfrei has traveled to Immokalee several times and has tried to persuade the companies that purchase the tomatoes from farmers there to help alleviate the pickers’ suffering.
"This is a call to action and it’s my hope that the community will become more aware of what is occurring in our own backyard and respond by bringing blessings, healing and justice. When we become educated in this issue, we will all recognize the benefit of buying produce, tomatoes in particular, from vendors and supermarkets that participate in the Fair Food Campaign."
Schuldenfrei said pickers are paid by the bucket — which are roughly 30 pounds each.
"That’s about $90 per bucket in retail value. However, the picker only get about 50 cents per bucket. When companies pay even one cent more per pound, Instead of 50 cents per bucket, the picker will get over 80 cents per bucket."
Beside the pickers’ pay being an "abomination," Schuldenfrei said the conditions in the fields are often insufferable. The Fair Food Campaign demands that the tomatoes are picked in a humane fashion, which means there are criteria for the conditions in the tomato fields. This could mean anything from a no tolerance for sexual exploitation and harassment to no tolerance for violence in the fields to human trafficking, he said.
According to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ website, in 2010, the U.S. Department of State awarded the coalition with the Trafficking in Persons Hero Award, in recognition of "perseverance against slavery operations in the U.S. agricultural industry," and "determination to eliminate forced labor in supply chains."
Also in 2010, the coalition developed a mobile Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum that has toured extensively in the southern and eastern United States. The coalition is a founding member of the National Freedom Network U.S.A. to Empower Victims of Slavery and Trafficking. The organization is also a regional coordinator for the Freedom Network Training Institute on Human Trafficking and in this capacity, the coalition trains state and federal law enforcement on how to identify and assist people held in slavery operations.
It isn’t too late to join Schuldenfrei and the caravan to Immokalee. Just show up in your car. The caravan leaves at 8 a.m. today, from Bet Shira Congregation at 7500 SW 120th St. You can reach the rabbi at 305-978-7773.
Our Friends and Neighbors’ hat is off to gold medalists Curtis Holland and Lian Plass, and to bronze medalist James Jackson, who recently won the honors at the NAACP’s annual National ACT-SO Competition on July 8, in Houston.