It’s a simple idea – get some friends together, bake challah and sell them at a profit, all in the name of charity. The Challah for Hunger movement has been designed to raise not only money but also awareness. As Alex Galbinskireports, it is catching on in the UK, with the London chapter preparing for an official launch at Finchley Reform Synagogue.
There is plenty that is comforting about the ritual of buying a challah and sharing it with friends and family on a Friday night, breaking open the sweet bread while breathing a sigh of relief that the lighting of the candles ushers in Shabbat.
A movement originating in the United States and launching next week in London, has added another dimension – that of helping others through the purchase of challot.
Challah for Hunger (CfH) is an organisation that brings people together to make challot from scratch, sell the loaves and raise not only money for charity but also awareness for social justice.
Its London chapter was established in January by Debbi Rosenthal, a recruitment adviser for the British Council. It launches officially on 6 October with Challahpalooza, a family event at Finchley Reform Synagogue.
Rosenthal, 23, first came across the movement while on her student year abroad at the university of California in 2010. “I became quite involved with the Hillel House there and, through that, would see CfH on Shabbat. Every Friday night, staff at the Hillel bought a large supply,” she explains.
“I went to a few bakes and thought it was really fun, but also a straightforward way of raising money for charity as well as staying in touch with your Judaism. For me as a student, it was a way of being involved without feeling I had to be religious or practising.”
Rosenthal brought the idea home to England and after she finished university in Edinburgh set about establishing a branch in London (there is already a small chapter at Oxford university, established by an American student). The chapter has received funding from JHub’s micro-grant programme and the Board of Deputies.
In America, the non-profit organisation originated at the Claremont Colleges in California.
A student named Eli Winkleman started baking for fun at the Hillel every week and other students heard about her baking sessions and went along to learn from her. They kept coming back, it became a regular event and CfH was born.
Winkleman decided to combine the sessions with raising money for chari- table causes, particularly in Darfur. The movement spread to other university campuses through word of mouth and now, Rosenthal says, “it’s really well known”.
The premise couldn’t be simpler: volunteers get together to bake challah and sell them at a vast profit, all of which the movement donates. CfH International has so far raised about $500,000. The London chapter raises around £140 per bake and sells about 40 to 50 loaves at a time (the sug- gested cost per loaf is £2.50, but some people pay considerably more).
In the UK, half the money raised goes to a nationwide cause, in this case Tzedek, specifically towards its small-grant projects that work with people in Ghana and Bangladesh on micro-credit projects to help people out of poverty.
The other half is given to local charities selected by the chapter – for the FRS bakes, this was Homeless Action in Barnet; at Edgware United, it was World Jewish Relief.
“The aim is to raise funds for charitable causes that deal with poverty, hunger and homelessness,” Rosenthal says. “They don’t have to be Jewish charities, but they do have to fit in with CfH’s values.
“We make sure when people buy challah we tell them where the money goes. We try to ensure it’s about more than people just buying bread and about what else they could do with relatively little inconvenience to them- selves while still making a difference.
“It’s fun to come and bake and you’re doing a mitzvah by coming and baking and by buying the challah. That’s why it appealed to me as a model for charity. It’s a high-impact but low-time commitment way of raising money.”
While the movement is mostly campus-based in the US, where there are around 60 chapters – there are also two in Australia, three in Canada and now two in the UK, Rosenthal sees its potential as a community-led project as well.
Speaking about a one-off dough- making demonstration held in April at Edgware United Synagogue, Rosenthal says: “It was a really nice inter-generational event.
“There were women who had been making challah for years and others who had never made it but were keen to learn how. It was moving to see everyone advising and helping each other out.”
Rosenthal is eager to encourage volunteers of all ages, including any individual or any community groups who would like to host a bake, be it a one-off or a regular occurrence, and says plenty of support will be available to them. The movement will also be investing in Orthodox kosher kitchen equipment to ensure everyone can be included that wants to be.
“It’s rapidly expanding and in the UK we are waiting for the tipping point, which we know will come,” she says. “It’s about spreading the word as much as possible and then people will take the idea back to their universities and to their J-Socs and say ‘why don’t we do this once a term?’” The Challapaloozah launch will be a “fun and crazy family affair”, claims Rosenthal.
“We’ll be experimenting with crazy flavours for the launch – it’ll be an extreme challah-making session!
“Everyone will donate a set amount of money and bring along a crazy ingredient if they can. That means anything from chilli pepper and cumin to whole black peppercorns to figs, dates and – a popular choice in America – peach and basil. It’s literally anything you can think to put in challah!
“There will also be dough-making demonstrations and prizes for the most ingenious flavours but we will also provide a lot of the ingredients, in case people cannot bring one, or need some inspiration – but it does add to the fun if people bring something wacky.
“There will be experienced challah helpers there, giving advice on how to plait and make different shaped challah. It will be a really big, fun event.”
• Challah for Hunger will conduct short introductory sessions at JW3 on 29 September. Challahpalooza, its own launch event, takes place on 6 October at Finchley Reform Synagogue, from 2pm to 5pm. Entry costs £4 for adults and £3 for children and you take your challah home. For more information about Challapaloozah, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://challahforhungerlondon.com/