Groups host ‘Labor Seder’


Members of the Jewish community and representatives of several major labor unions and other interested persons last week participated in the first “St. Louis Labor Seder,” sponsored by the St. Louis Jewish Labor Committee and the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. Over 75 Jewish community leaders, attorneys and labor union representatives gathered in the Zorensky Family Center in the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building to share in a celebration not only of the upcoming Festival of Passover, but the long and mutually supportive history of the ties between the American Jewish community and the U.S. organized labor movement.

The late longtime community volunteer and JCRC Council member Winifred “Winnie” Lippman for years headed the St. Louis Chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee; she has been succeeded in that post by Rhoda Lyons, who participated in the Labor Seder, along with Leonard Frankel, president of the JCRC, and other officers and committee chairs of the JCRC who presented a list of “Labor’s Crucial Issues.” Rabbi Joshua Taub of Temple Emanuel, a member of the JCRC Council, officiated at the seder ceremony, using a Hagaddah prepared by the national Jewish Labor Committee, and which has been used for years in the Chicago area. Eli Fishman, director of the Chicago-based Jewish Labor Committee office, attended the program and offered remarks and greetings to the St. Louis gathering.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

“The (national) Jewish Labor Committee was founded in 1934 by a group of Jewish trade union leaders who were concerned about the rise of Nazism in Germany,” Fishman said. “Its purpose was to bring together members of organized labor and the Jewish community in order to address social and political issues of common interest.”

Tracing Jewish involvement and leadership in the American labor movement, Fishman said, “Jewish traditions are at the core of the organized labor movement in America. They served as a clear-cut course of action for individuals like Samuel Gompers, a Jew of Dutch ancestry, who founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL), Sidney Hillman, a Lithuanian rabbinical student, who founded the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and was later a founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and David Dubinsky, a Polish Jew who served as president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) from 1932 until 1966.”

Fishman added, “Jewish women also played a vital role in the early development of the organized labor movement. A 1909 garment workers strike in New York and in Chicago involving more than 20,000 workers, was led by women like Clara Lemlich Shavelson, Fannia Cohn, Rose Schneiderman and Bessie Abramowitz.”

Pointing out that over the past half century, Jewish participation in factory labor has diminished, and that millions of manufacturing jobs have been shipped out of the country, and that “wages, pension, Social Security and health benefits are all at risk,” Fishman said “It is precisely under these circumstances that we must all embrace the fundamental principles of social and worker justice that have historically inspired to action both the Jewish and organized labor communities. We look forward to a continuation of the close ethical relationship between the Jewish community and organized labor for the betterment of all.”

Among those attending the Labor Seder were labor attorney Bruce Feldacker, whose grandson, Jacob Granick, a student at the Saul Mirowitz Day School/Reform Jewish Academy asked the Four Questions; Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, who spoke on “Labor’s Critical Issues”; Judge Harold Lowenstein of the Court of Appeals, Western District (Kansas City), introduced by Missouri Supreme Court Justice Richard Teitelman, who spoke on the threats to Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan; Randy Kaiser of the Missouri AFL-CIO, who warned against what he called a “paycheck deception” ballot initiative; Brandon Davis, political director of the Missouri Council, Service Employees Union (SEIU), who spoke on what he termed a misleading “anti-discrimination” ballot intitiative which is actually an attempt to repeal all affirmative action laws and regulations in Missouri; and Steve Skrainka, JCRC vice president, who spoke on the JCRC’s Campaign Against Poverty, a multi-agency, interfaith and inter-racial coalition of programs and actions aimed at alleviating the effects of poverty throughout the Jewish and general communities.