National Jewish Groups, Bishops and Cong. Schakowsky Join in Call for 'a New Beginning' at Kosher Meat Packing Plant in Postville, Iowa
Sept. 29, 2009--Fifteen major Jewish organizations, bishops of the Catholic and Lutheran churches and a congresswoman have come together in calling for a "new beginning" in the small Iowa town of Postville, home of a kosher meat-packing plant that has received considerable national attention.
They are urging the new owners of the plant, Agri Star Meat & Poultry, to meet with the newly formed Postville Community Benefits Alliance to "work together to ensure the health and prosperity of the plant, its work force and the town of Postville," according to a letter signed by the 15 Jewish organizations. The letter was sent this week to Daniel Hirsch, CEO of Agri Star. The new company took over operations of the plant in August, following several months of management by a bankruptcy court.
In a separate letter to Hirsch (Sept. 23), U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) referred to the plant’s “poor working conditions [and] unethical treatment of animals” under its former owner, Agriprocessors, Inc. Schakowsky went on to critique the May 2008 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on the plant “that broke apart families and severely hurt the local economy." ICE is a federal agency.
"There is now the opportunity to usher in a new image for kosher meat production in Postville, free from violations of U.S. and Jewish Law," said Schakowsky.
The Jewish organizations say that Jews across the country -- consumers of kosher meat products -- are "watching closely for important signs" of a new beginning in Postville. "With your new leadership," said the organizations' letter to Hirsch, "the community has an opportunity to heal."
"The fact that so many Jewish organizations have come together on a single social-justice issue indicates how important Postville is to Jews," said Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Chicago-based Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, one of the signers to the letter.
"We are committed to working with leaders of the Postville community and the new owners to signal a new beginning of cooperative relationships that will benefit all." said Vic Rosenthal, executive director of Jewish Community Action, another of the letter's signers.
The same message of "new beginnings" was the thought behind a specially designed Rosh Hashanah greeting card sent to Hirsch by several hundred people as the Jewish New Year began. (The card can be downloaded from jcua.org or jewishcommunityaction.org.)
Also writing to Hirsch in support of the Community Benefits Alliance was Rev. Dr. Steven L. Ullestad, bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: "I wish you every success and will include that petition with my prayers of gratitude for your role in the restoration of this town," Ullestad wrote.
"I believe that it is important that as many people as possible, collaborate with the Postville Community Alliance in order to provide an environment that promotes the health and prosperity of the plant, its work force and the town of Postville," said Rev. Jerome Hanus, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque in a letter to Hirsch.
The groups signing the letter from Jewish organizations are: American Jewish World Service; AVODAH, the Jewish Service Corps; Hazon; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, Jewish Community Action; Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Jewish Labor Committee; Jews United for Justice; National Council of Jewish Women; Progressive Jewish Alliance; Uri L' Tzedek; and Workmen's Circle.