Yochanan Lavie, who regularly reads and comments over at failedmessiah.com, recently shared this poem inspired in general by the sickness and evil near the root of Aaron Rubashkin’s animal slaughtering and meat processing factory in Postville, Iowa, and specifically by Rubashkin’s use of PR flacks, paid industry “representatives,” and the Orthodox establishment to shill for them.
I’ve reposted Lavie’s poem below.
“Jeer at them” with apologies to William Blake
And did the Rebbe’s feet in recent time
Walk upon Iowa’s fields of green?
And were the illegal Mexicanos
On Iowa’s pleasant pastures screened?
And did the ICE helicoptors
Hover over our well-paid shills?
And was Crown Heights builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my public relations flack!
Bring me my homeless men of Texas!
Bring me my army of wetbacks!
Lie to my critics that afflict us!
I will not cease from PR fights,
I will stick it to the goyishe “Man”
Till we have built Crown Heights
In Iowa’s green and pleasant land.
Adapted from “And did those feet in ancient time” by William Blake from the preface to his epic poem, Milton: a Poem. In 1916, C. Hubert H. Parry composed music for the poem to be sung as a hymn called “Jerusalem” (thus Lavie’s “Jeer at them”). Wikipedia notes,
The term “dark Satanic mills”, which entered the English language from this poem, most often is interpreted as referring to the early industrial revolution and its destruction of nature. This view has been linked to the fate of the Albion Flour Mills, which was the first major factory in London, built in 1769 by Matthew Boulton and James Watt. It was powered by Watt’s steam engines, and produced 6,000 bushels of flour a week. The factory could have driven independent traditional millers out of business, but it was destroyed, perhaps deliberately, by fire in 1791. London’s independent millers celebrated with placards reading, “Success to the mills of ALBION but no Albion Mills.”  Opponents referred to the factory as satanic, and accused its owners of adulterating flour and using cheap imports at the expense of British producers. An illustration of the fire published at the time shows a devil squatting on the building. The mills were a short distance from Blake’s home.
The Romantic movement which Blake helped invoke began in response to the dehumanization of industrialization, environmental devastation wrought by the intense exploitation of nature, and the loss of culture resulting from the alienation of artisans and craftsmen in the production of goods. The purpose of industrialization is to use efficiencies to lower costs, but often enough, industrialized mass production simply shifts costs away from the consumer and industry and onto the workers and the environment. Resources, both natural and human, are ruthlessly exploited resulting in environmental and social ills that ultimately cost more money to rectify than that incurred in the expense of a more humanely produced consumer good.
Lavie focuses on the exploitation of “illegal workers” and “wetbacks” (terms I’d never use) to describe just one corruption within the Rubashkin enterprise. Rubashkin’s business ultimately aims to satisfy Jewish Americans insatiable and unhealthy appetite for (kosher) meat through the mechanism of industrialized mass production. The exploitation of undocumented workers is one method of lowering the costs to the consumer. Unfortunately, lowering costs doesn’t come without a price — the true costs of environmental and social ills caused by pollution and labor abuse are simply passed onto the health and welfare of society and the environment we depend on.
With all the attention on Rubashkin’s disgusting labor practices, it’s also time to remind folks how Rubashkin has regularly sought to lower standards whether it be in food safety, worker safety, humane treatment of animals, and the pollution of the environment.
Might the Rubashkin travesty revive the nascent Jewish movement that aims to place renewed emphasis on Jewish and humane values in the Kosher Food Industry? You can do your part by supporting hekhsher tzedek.
“Jeer at them” is shared by Aharon N. Varady with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.