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Challah Bake braids fun with service
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Challah Bake braids fun with service

Volunteers prepare hundreds of loaves for area hungry

Federation president Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, left, and CEO Dov Ben-Shimon join volunteers aiming to produce over 800 loaves of hallah for the needy. 
Federation president Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, left, and CEO Dov Ben-Shimon join volunteers aiming to produce over 800 loaves of hallah for the needy. 

Their goal was to produce 850 loaves in a one-day marathon of braiding and glazing. By midday, with the wintry weather deterring some, participants in the Second Annual Challah Bake — held by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside — were already declaring “mission accomplished.” 

From 9 a.m. till 7 p.m. on Feb. 9, volunteers from across the region gathered to tackle the gooey white dough and turn it into fragrant, crusty brown loaves. They had come, most said, for the satisfaction of doing something good, and the pleasure of doing it in good company.

By Friday, those loaves are to be delivered to clients of the Jewish Family Service agencies of Central New Jersey and MetroWest, the Jewish Relief Agency, the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry at Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, and the Union Beach Spoonful of Hope. 

Suzy Berman, coordinator of volunteer services at Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, was volunteering at the event. She said that in addition to baking the loaves, volunteers were also assembling “Shabbat in a Box” packages for clients of the JFS agencies’ Café Europa and “sustainable meals” for their emergency clients.

As Maxine Schwartz of Westfield pointed out, a loaf of bread doesn’t solve the problem of hunger, but it carries powerful symbolism. 

Schwartz, who chairs the federation’s Center for Volunteerism, described the event’s mission as threefold: “To fulfill the mitzva of baking hallah, to raise awareness of the growing problem of food insecurity and hunger in the state, and to build a sense of community.” 

It should also show families in need, she added, that they are not forgotten, and their plight is recognized.

Leading the effort were three cochairs from Livingston, Amy Block, Terri Friedman, and Jane Wilf; one from Summit, Susan Present; and one from Westfield, Joanie Schwarz. They organized the event together with the Center for Volunteerism and the federation’s Community Relations Committee. Joining them were representatives from the federation and its partner agencies, as well as a long list of synagogues and community organizations. 

Some came with impressive skills; others were eager to learn. Rivkie Bogomilsky of the Chai Center Shul at Short Hills was one of those doing the teaching. “I could never follow the instructions; they were just too confusing,” she said. “About a year and a half ago, I was shown a YouTube video, and that did it. I’ve been baking my own hallah ever since.” 

Her friend Lilach Zusman of Short Hills said she was getting the hang of it, “but I don’t think I’m going to be doing it at home.” 

In between their baking work, volunteers gathered to hear speakers discuss the hunger crisis in New Jersey. More than a million people in the state are already facing hunger, and cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are likely to push that number higher. 

As Samuel Chu, a national expert who works with Mazon, a Jewish Response to Hunger, pointed out, making things even worse is the lack of information about the services that do exist, both among those in need and even, at times, those working with them.

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