Challah for the People

Five years ago Challah for Hunger started as a student service in Claremont Colleges in California. Students Eli Winkelman and Melinda Koster combined their respective interests in baking and Darfur activism to provide a service that teaches student to bake challah and buy it fresh on campus, and in turn provides money for American Jewish World Services’ humanitarian relief efforts in Sudan and Chad. The group raised over $30,000 in under three years. Now a fellow at the PresenTense Institute, Winkelman is working full-time to bring Challah for Hunger — now a registered non-profit working on nearly 30 campuses to date — to students across the country and the world. The group has already gained recognition from the Clinton Global Initiative, and Winkelman also writes about Jews and food at The Jew and the Carrot blog.

In Brooklyn, the locavore movement is getting a delicious doughy boost from Johanna Bronk. An opera singer by training, Bronk, a recent conservatory graduate, spent time as an Adamah Fellow and discovered her love of baking. “I really learned about the importance of being connected to the food I consume,” Bronk told Lilith. “I learned a lot about the Jewish connection to agriculture. Sometimes it feels like Jews have strayed from the land, but I want people to remember that throughout our history, we’ve really had a deep connection to it.” So when she moved to New York, Bronk started what she calls a C.S.B. — like the now-common Community Supported Agriculture groups, but for baked goods (hence the “B”). Called A Needed Twist, the barely two-month-old project allows locals to “subscribe” for fresh baked challahs and other breads made from all local ingredients (her wheat comes from Pennsylvania, and other ingredients grow even closer to home). “I certainly feel like it’s a reflection of my Jewish identity,” Bronk notes, adding, “After all, so much of observing Shabbat is about community. This is really an extension of that idea.”

The idea of communal challah baking has been taken up by groups ranging from the parents’ association at the Abraham Joshua Heschel Hebrew day school in Manhattan to Russian women whom Project Kesher is helping to resettle in Boston. Katja Goldman, who was one of the founders of a cooperative bakery in Cambridge, Mass. called The Slice of Life Bakery in the 1970s, and now teaches others to bake challah on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, has spurred much of this activity.

“It’s not part of an organized program. I was asked by Heschel and the JCC to teach challah classes, and they were auctioned off. I have been asked to teach challah-baking for many organizations now.” So is her recipe special? “Everyone thinks her challah recipe is special. Mine has a honey glaze.” ONLINE: Challah recipes.