By Kira Cohen
If you’ve ever been to a Shabbat meal on campus, you may have noticed the presence of two doughy delights at the table. These challahs, prepared by Challah for Hunger, have become hallmarks of meals at this university.
Challah for Hunger is an organization on campus that bakes and sells challahs to students every week to raise money for charity. Adina Weinreb, a junior psychology major and Education Chair for the club, said although the “Challah for Hunger” affiliate is a national organization spanning many college campuses, many chapters do not meet every week.
Half of the profits are given to organizations local to the university, and the other half are donated to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a Jewish national organization that advocates to end hunger. Challah for Hunger at this university gives their local half to a central kitchen in Washington, D.C.
“I find Challah for Hunger really rewarding,” said Anna Kaplan, a sophomore psychology major and head of social outreach for the club. ”It’s not just you go hang out with me and my friends. I’m putting my efforts behind a greater cause.”
The process is divided into three categories: bake, braid and sell. Every Wednesday, the bakers meet in the Hillel kitchen to mix all the ingredients together, say a special blessing over the dough and put it in the fridge to rise for the next day. But it’s easier said than done; baking is a time-consuming and often physically demanding process.
“I get really dirty because the machine is broken…we should probably get a new machine because it splatters flour all over the place,” said Rachel Sentchuk, a sophomore behavior and public health major and baker for the club.
The challahs are made with an official “Challah for Hunger at UMD” recipe. Although Weinreb and former club member Rebecca Rychik don’t seem to know how the recipe originated, it is believed by many club members that it was made up by a student at this university years ago.
On Thursdays at 5 p.m., volunteers congregate in the Hillel game room to braid the challah. Anyone is welcome to braid, and volunteers usually consist of members of sororities, fraternities, and others looking to fulfill community service hours. Braiding for Challah for Hunger is the first time many walk into Hillel or have a Jewish experience. During the braiding session, Weinreb educates the volunteers about the organization and the broader issue of global hunger.
“I’ve been brainstorming recently on how to make it more fun and interactive,” Weinreb said. “More important than that is making sure that the people who come to braiding have a positive experience that they associate with Challah for Hunger.”
After braiding, the challahs are given to bakers and wrappers who oversee the time in the oven.
The challahs are finally sold on Fridays. Each challah is sold for $4.50, which is a 50 cent increase from last year. Challahs are also available for preorder. If challahs are leftover, they are frozen and sold in subsequent weeks at a lower cost.
Bakers and braiders often double as sellers and they sell in shifts to accommodate varying schedules.
“People start complimenting the challah or talking about Challah for Hunger and I’m kinda just sitting there awkwardly and I’m like yeah, that was me, but I don’t actually say it,” said Sentchuk, who sells in addition to baking.
Challahs are sold at Hillel during lunch hours because Jews, who need challah for Shabbat meals, are the product’s primary consumers. But many in the club are considering selling in other locations to expand the challahs beyond the Jewish community.
“There’s definitely other people who would buy challah if it was more convenient. If they were in front of McKeldin, and they saw fresh bread, I’m sure they would get it,” said Weinreb.
Last year, Challah for Hunger hosted a challah “bake off” event. Students from the community baked their own challahs, and participants paid to enter to vote for their favorite. The winner received two challahs on a week of their choice. The event was an effort to provide another way to participate in the club for those who are unable to attend Thursday night braiding sessions, said Rychik, a senior family science major and organizer of the event.
“I think it was a good first attempt at doing a challah for hunger event besides the weekly braiding,” said Rychick.
Overall, the seemingly simple challahs present at your Shabbat meals are actually products of an intensive process involving multiple steps and many people.
“It’s a lot of teamwork. Everyone is doing their part. I’m just assuming that the person who is supposed to make the dough just does that, and then everything falls into place,” said Weinreb. “You don’t necessarily see what someone else is doing.”