The founder of the United Farm Workers, César Chávez, was born on this date in 1927. Chávez, a disciple of Saul Alinsky, became a master of non-violent resistance who sparked the modern Hispanic civil rights movement by organizing the most exploited workers of the Spanish-speaking community. He strongly influenced several important Jewish activists, including Harvard professor Marshall Ganz, who worked with the UFW for sixteen years (Ganz helped shape Barack Obama’s social media organizing campaign in 2008); Stephen Lerner, who worked on the grape and lettuce boycotts in New York before becoming an organizer for 1199, the ILGWU, and the SEIU; Marc Grossman, who was Chávez’ personal aide and representative to the press for some two decades; and hundreds of liberal rabbis and synagogue members who found new meaning for the kosher laws by participating in the UFW grape boycott in the 1960s and ’70s. Widespread Jewish participation in UFW boycotts helped shape a new sense of a socially responsible kashrut that has had enduring influence on contemporary Jewish culture.
“These grape pickers, among the poorest working people in our land of plenty, have appealed to the conscience of the country to support them in their desperate struggle to secure a collective bargaining agreement with the growers of table grapes. We cannot stay indifferent to their appeal, nor to the right of other farm workers to a fair share of the fruit of their labors.”—Excerpt from the 1969 resolution in support of the grape boycott by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations