What I learned from Trader Joe’s

Rabbi Paul Plotkin
6 min readApr 15, 2021


I did something Tuesday that would have been impossible even a few months ago in the height of the pandemic, I visited multiple stores on one shopping trip. It began at Doris’ Market for quality melon, continued up the street to Publix for the bulk of my shopping, and after a quick side trip to the Bank Of America ATM, ended at Trader Joe’s for the things you can only get at Trader Joe’s.

While checking out I noticed that my groceries were going into what in any other store would have been normal paper bags. The problem was these were not Trader Joe’s normal bags. They were missing the handles that turn Trader Joe’s bags into shopping bags. Being the yenta that I am I asked what happened to the old bags and received a detailed response that was a life lesson, from the smiling worker.

It turns out that the shopping bags I yearned for are made from recycled State of California school textbooks. This past year there was no in school classes and so new textbooks were not printed and there were no left-over books to be recycled. In short, my shopping bags were a victim of the covid pandemic.

The supply chain was compromised!

We have been experiencing this problem all year though before the pandemic I am not sure any of us ever thought about the supply chain and how interdependent we all are on it.

I first became aware of it when Publix stopped carrying my favorite mustard, Hellman’s Dijonase , of blessed memory. I asked Publix to get some for me but they claimed it was unavailable. This was my favorite mustard so a mere not available was not satisfactory or acceptable.

I called the company. They said it was out of stock since certain ingredients were not available because of covid. Subsequently I found out that they had discontinued the product. I was a victim of a broken supply chain, or to put it another way, we are completely interdependent in this world on everyone in this world.

Someone, pre pandemic wrote the following that really explains this phenomenon.

I sit at my word processor (assembled here in the USA with

chips made in Japan) in a pair of Levis sewn in Mexico while wearing a British brand of sneakers (Reeboks) which, a discreet tag inside informs, were manufactured in South Korea. For lunch, I will eat a salad made from vegetables grown in South Florida which were harvested by a vast army of migrant workers who are Hispanic or contract workers from the Caribbean. The ordinary circumstances of my not uncomfortable life, in short are dependent on a large number of people who are alien to me in culture, language and economic status.

Our lives in so many ways are interdependent.

Look at what happened to supply chains and international commerce when one ship got stuck in the Suez Canal.

If you go to Ben’s Kosher Deli for a meal, and as Rav Hamachshir, I strongly recommend you do, you may discover that your favorite type of pickle is not currently available. Why? The storm and flood in Texas destroyed the cucumber crop that was in the ground and picklers are currently out of raw materials.

This year showed us all how interdependent we are with each other in our communities but also with people from all over the world. Many workers that we had always come into contact with and paid no attention to, were now called essential workers and we were happy that they came to work. Otherwise, supermarkets would have closed, and meat would have disappeared from our already diminished food options.

People who were lucky worked from home but with schools closing how many people could not go to work and how much production was lost because of that? Have you noticed that kosher lamb chops now cost 100% more than they did pre-pandemic when they were already sinfully expensive? Did you notice how many Passover foods that were available last year did not make an appearance this year?

As Tom Friedman showed us, the world is flatter than ever, and we are therefore totally dependent on each other globally. We have spent the last 4 years with an administration that wanted to put the US first, above everyone else, without realizing the unintended consequences of not thinking globally. Putting tariffs on many products to protect American jobs led to the American people paying those tariffs with increased costs to the consumer.

Remember the spiritual song, Dry Bones, based on the vision of the dry bones by Ezekiel. “ Toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone…” We are all interconnected.

We may never know how the covid virus came to be, but it is clear that China knew about it and its danger to the world but took a long time covering it up and depriving the world of a chance to put up a defense against its arrival. By thinking about themselves first and not globally they are responsible for all the hell and the death this planet has been subjected to.

There is now a debate on how the rich countries have an obligation to fund vaccinations for the poorer nations. Some want to say that it is not our problem, but in an interconnected world it is very much our problem. We will never be completely safe in our country if large parts of the world are not vaccinated. That population will be the petri dish for new mutations to develop and inevitably one such mutation will get around the immunity of our vaccines, and back we go to square one.

Whether we like it or not we are all in this together.

I leave you with this last tale[1] that sums up why interdependence is so important.

A rat looked through a crack in the wall and saw the farmer and his wife opening a package. He wondered what food it contained. He was shocked and scared to see that it was a rat trap. As he retreated to the farmyard, the rat proclaimed the warning to the other animals:

“There is a rat trap in the house, a rat trap in the house!”

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said,

“Excuse me, Mr. Rat. I understand that this is of grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be harmed by a rat trap.”

The rat turned to the lamb and told him,

“There is a rat trap in the house, a rat trap in the house!”

“I am so very sorry, Mr. Rat,” sympathized the lamb, “there is nothing I can do about it but pray. But I will pray for you.

The rat then turned to the cow. She said,

“Like wow, Mr. Rat. A rat trap. I am in grave danger. Duh?”

So the rat returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s rat trap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house, much like the sound of a rat trap closing on its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what had happened. In the darkness, she did not realize that the trap had closed on the tail of a poisonous snake. The snake bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital. She returned home very ill and with a fever.

Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient.

His wife’s condition did not improve, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock.

The farmer butchered the lamb in order to have enough food for everyone. Unfortunately, the farmer’s wife died.

So many people came to her funeral that the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide meat for all of them to eat.

The moral of this story is: the next time you hear that someone is facing a problem and think that it does not concern you, remember that when there is a rat trap in the house, the whole farmyard is at risk.

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[1] Adapted from Monday Fodder Update, April 21, 2002]



Rabbi Paul Plotkin

I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .