On July 22, amidst a tableful of hummus and pita at Bibi’s Bakery & Café, the 2012 Tikkun Olam Institute began.
Though our appetizers were delectable, our mouths watered as we ate. Feet away, the tastiest, and “tav”iest, pizza on Pico Boulevard, baked in a wood-fired oven.
While we noshed, Rabbi Drew Kaplan welcomed us to the eatery. He described his rationale for choosing it as the inaugural site of TOI 2012.
Rabbi Drew explained that while he chose Bibi’s so that we could enjoy good eats, which we were doing, abundantly, he also brought us there to discuss good deeds, more specifically, how to treat workers ethically in accordance with halacha. He reminded us of how food can be kosher on many, many levels.
After this introduction, we chatted while we waited for Dan Messinger, Bibi’s owner, to come speak about his involvement with Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization guided by Torah values and dedicated to combating suffering and oppression.
Our pizzas arrived.
We ravaged them.
As we were wiping away our pizza moustaches, Messinger left the register and joined us. He stood, wearing an apron and sheepish smile, at the head of our table. He quickly put everyone at ease with his self-deprecating humor.
He explained that in 1999, he came to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry. However, he tired of it and decided to start his own business. He discovered Bibi’s, in which he saw great potential, and decided to revitalize the bakery and café.
Around this same time, Messinger also met a representative of the Tav HaYosher. She educated him about the work of the Tav, which was developed by Uri L’Tzedek, and persuaded him to feel that he could implement the Tav’s principles to create a more ethical workplace.
Messinger boiled down the Tav simply: it is basic certification awarded to businesses that observably and measurably treat their employees with fairness. These criteria are already law. To achieve certification, employers must allow their employees to take breaks, foster a safe work environment, and pay employees the minimum wage. Representatives of the Tav visit worksites in order to ensure that these standards are being met.
Messinger said that the Tav is mutually beneficial to employee and employer. If employees are treated ethically, then employers can expect employees to return the respect and courtesy that they have ben extended. Messinger added that though it was difficult to abide by the Tav during his first year in business, he fought to maintain it by paying his employees overtime wages. Messinger felt it was an honor that he kept his certification and that he was one of the first one hundred restaurants in the United States to become Tav.
“Tav HaYosher is an affirmation that we commit to a standard level of treatment with employees,” Messinger asserted, and then waved over one of his employees, Katharine Skupsky, who is also an Uri L’Tzedek fellow, to further explain.
Skupsky excitedly spoke about the Tav and its push to include workers in frozen yogurt shops and grocery stores. She located the Tav’s roots in the scandal surrounding Sholom Rubashkin’s Agriprocessors, a meatpacking plant and slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. In 2008, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security raided the plants. Federal agents arrested 398 undocumented workers. At the time, the Agriprocessors’ raid had the dubious distinction of being the largest workplace raid in American history.
The raid, and subsequent trials, brought international scrutiny to Jewish business. Violations extending from fraud to defiance were exposed, and Agriprocessors, as a corporation, entered a guilty plea to the eighty-three child labor charges.
This climate inspired Rabbis Shmuly Yanklowitz and Ari Hart to take action. On the one-year anniversary of the raid, they launched Tav HaYosher with the goal of tikkun olam.
“We are also planning on branch out to cover home healthcare workers and giving a voice two people who don’t have one,” she added.
Bibi’s food is undeniably delicious and the righteousness with which it is made only makes it sweeter.