Holy day tomato symbolizes 'enslaved' farm workers
Food serves as a symbol during many holy days, especially in the spring. The eggs of Easter, can symbolize the renewal of life, of rebirth, and the sun.
The Seder plate of Passover is also rife with symbols. The traditional bitter herbs, charoset, parsley, shank bone and eggs, each has its place in telling the story of the liberation of Jewish people from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago.
At the service held at St. Lawrence University Monday evening, Rabbi Dr. Michael Greenwald explained that in the past year some Jews have added a tomato to the Seder plate.
The new addition is a symbol of contemporary slavery, particularly what some Rabbis consider the slavery of U.S. tomato pickers.
Members of a New York-based organization called Rabbis for Human Rights-North America visited tomato-growing regions of Florida last year. They said they met with often-underpaid and overworked tomato pickers, in near-slavery conditions.
The Rabbis took a variety of actions, among them, inviting people to add a tomato to the Seder plate, as a symbol and reminder of the farm worker who picked it.
“It’s just obvious to me,” California-based Rabbi Paula Marcus wrote in San Francisco’s jweekly newspaper. “We imagine what it was like to be slaves and celebrate our freedom." She went on, “But the truth is, there are people in our own country who don’t have to imagine what it is like to be a slave.”
When United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack started hosting a Food and Justice Passover Seder a couple of years ago. Last year, he also added a tomato to the plate. A USDA blog says it was to draw attention to the plight of day laborers, and to “… the themes of hunger, access to healthy food, sustainable food production, and fair treatment for farm workers."
Now the question is, will these symbolic gestures make any difference to the people living in these conditions?