Photo by Jacob Goldberg
Arriving at Hillel on the last night of sukkot and passing the wooden sukkah on your right painted green, yellow and red, you have the unmistakable feeling of entering a homogenous Jewish environment. Upon ascending one flight of stairs, however, the Challah for Hunger attendee will soon find out that this is not always the case.
Spread across the four large 10-person tables, a mélange of different dedicated UCLA students come to contribute to a communal cause; Challah for Hunger is a student run organization on campus that bakes and sells challah in order to raise money for Jewish World Watch (a Los Angeles based organization that promotes advocacy, education, and direct relief programs in Darfur, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Out of the 30-40 bakers who show up each week, the majority of the executive board is Greek and many participants come from religious, distinctly non-Jewish backgrounds.
“I grew up in New York and most of my friends were Jewish so it was something I was involved in but not spiritually. I was the only girl without a Bat Mitzvah and here it’s nice because it doesn’t matter if you’re not Jewish,” says Caroline Ponce de Leon, second-year and member of Kappa Alpha Beta, as she smears peanut butter on the third limb of her challah.
At another table to the far side of the room, Lutheran and third-year mechanical engineering major Luke Lighthizer sits pounding his challah. After making flour-whiskers stand out against the skin of his cheeks, he elaborates on why he participates. “Besides my huge crush on Amanda, [president of the UCLA chapter], I think a lot of religions come together here for providing for those in need. It doesn’t matter what your dogmas or beliefs are—it’s just a general desire to help people—and that’s what I love. That and chocolate chips.”
Photos by Jacob Goldberg and Andrew Rosenstein
Besides cultivating meaningful relationships between Jews and non-Jews, since its birth in 2007 UCLA’s Challah for Hunger chapter has flourished. So far they boast over $20,000 in sales and counting. In addition to their challah baking, each week Challah for Hunger invites a speaker—of any faith or ethnicity—to come and talk about social action issues. This week’s speaker was one of Jewish World Watch’s rabbinic interns, Avi Averbach.
“The Jewish people,” he begins, “have been saying ‘never again’ since the end of the holocaust, but you can point to pretty much any country on the map and they’ve experienced genocide—there have been 43 genocides since the holocaust.”
Jewish World Watch is dedicated to preventing these genocides and aiding the individuals whose lives have been irrevocably destroyed by them. One of the programs that Challah for Hunger donates to is the Solar Cooker Project. According to the Jewish World Watch website, the Solar Cooker Project is “committed to protecting refugee women and girls from rape and other forms of violence. Women and girls who have fled the genocide in Darfur, Sudan are particularly vulnerable while performing the critical task of collecting firewood for cooking. Our mission is to reduce the frequency of these heinous crimes by providing women in refugee camps with an alternative cooking option: the solar cooker.”
Jewish World Watch discovered refugees’ need for solar cookers after speaking with people housed in camps, in what they call their “on the ground” approach.
“Jewish World Watch talks to people on the ground and discusses with them what they actually need. Food, water and supplies aren’t really needed; they need to be given back their dignity,” Averbach notes, motioning around the room to a silent audience. “If the U.S. sends shiploads of rice and Haiti just finished up their rice harvest it’s not really that helpful.”
He goes on to explain how many of the wars in Africa are fueled by Western ideas, citing Congo as an example. “In the Congo, tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold are mined by child slave laborers and armed groups are fighting to get control of money and minerals to be put in your cameras and cell phones.”
Averbach urges students to raise their voices for these oppressed people whose outcries have little chance of being heard.
“You are the most influential group in America. You can call and talk to someone in President Obama’s office. You can call and say ‘I’m interested in the Congo, Darfur’ or whatever your cause is. Your generation is more active, more vocal and more likely to vote than any group in America. When Hillary Clinton’s number came out for people to text so many people responded that they had to shut down the line within days. But in response she sent a special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa,” Averbach finishes to looks of amazement.
Challah for Hunger participants recognize their influence on the future, and perhaps that is why they have chosen to dedicate their time to an interfaith organization of social action advocates.
Catholic third-year Emily Crowley remarks how “instead of just sending aid we’re giving help to the people and not the dictators.”
Squishing together the ends of her challah, sealing in a layer of peanut butter and chocolate chips, Catholic second-year and member of Kappa Kappa Gamma Roxy Thrapp comments on how unique Challah for Hunger is as an organization. “I think that it’s so hands on and you actually make it and feel yourself giving back rather than just giving some disconnected charity or something.”
To this Luba Ismakov, Jewish second-year, agrees. “I love challah, and it’s definitely more than the social component here. It’s a good idea to make something easy-going to help a radical cause.”
Ismakov proceeds to reflect on how her Challah for Hunger mirrors her Jewish upbringing. “There is a Jewish value that says do something, but don’t do it just so you can tell other people about it. [Challah for Hunger] is fun and you enjoy sacrificing your time and energy not just in your own interests as a Jew but in the interests of everybody.”
Every Wednesday Challah for Hunger bakes at Hillel (574 Hillgard Ave.) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and then on Thursday they sell their wares on Bruin Walk from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Lighthizer—seasoned challah salesman—has this to say about his experience: “It’s wonderful; I like to sell and yell at people. The best was when we were next to the Quidditch table and we were trying to sell them challah and Quidditch memorabilia.”
For four dollars you can buy an original flavor challah, but for only a dollar more Challah for Hunger offers Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter, Cinnamon Sugar, and a flavor of the week. Plus, if you would like to make a standing order for every Shabbat, come and talk to them at Bruin Walk to place your order. Donations are also welcome, as proceeds go to Jewish World Watch.
As Averbach remembers: “I bought two and I ate one in my car on the way home and the other was for Shabbat dinner.”
After most students have left, president Amanda Sass (Jewish second-year and member of Kappa Alpha Theta) wipes her hands on her black flour-stained sweater, reflecting on her experience.
“The idea of it is kind of silly: a bunch of students making bread, selling it and doing good. Everyone has midterms and people don’t have to come but we have the same people every week and everyone knows the cause to which they donate.”
Sass soon retreats into the kitchen where a few stragglers remain, fetching the freshly baked challahs out of the oven to be packaged in aluminum foil and kept fresh.
“I see the world through rose-colored lenses,” Crowley says. “I think there’s a lot wrong with the world but if you look at it with an optimistic view you’ll be more willing to get out there and help.”
For more information on Challah for Hunger please visit http://www.challahforhunger.org/chapters/ucla
And for more information on Jewish World Watch please visit http://www.jewishworldwatch.org/
What a great cause!