Kosher Clothes

Abby Levine is obsessed with clothes—but not the way you’d think. It’s her mission in life to make sure that clothing is sweat-free—made from non-sweatshop labor.

For Levine, this isn’t just a human rights issue, it’s a Jewish issue. “Not only does our moral tradition mandate respect for workers, but as Jewish women we have a rich history full of inspiring labor activism in the garment trades.” That’s why she runs the “No Shvitz” campaign with Progressive Jewish Alliance, to get Jews involved in the fight to end sweatshop abuses. Her current campaign has taken her all the way to San Francisco City Hall, where she has been organizing to pass a municipal resolution to mandate that all city-purchased clothing is sweat free. She was recently appointed to the Sweat-Free Advisory Committee by the mayor of San Francisco, as the only representative of the faith-community.

“Being kosher is not just about what you eat, it’s about how you live,” says Levine. “We want Jews to think about whether or not all the products they consume are kosher, in all senses of the word.”

Progressive Jewish Alliance recently sponsored No Shvitz Shabbat, with a panel of speakers at Sharith Israel, a reform synagogue in San Francisco.

“We’re seeing real interest—and commitment—from Jewish organizations,” says Levine. “Everyone who has been to a Jewish summer camp knows that you come home with a ton of camp t-shirts. Now, 11 summer camps in California have committed to buy sweat-free t-shirts, including Camp Kee Tov and [Reform movement] Camp Newman.” Now that summer camps have taken the pledge. Progressive Jewish Alliance is encouraging even larger Jewish organizations to make a commitment for their t-shirts to be “no shvitz.”

“We need Jews to take action for justice,” she adds. “To kvetch is human; to act is divine.”