Around 50 participants mixed, kneaded, and braided the sticky dough in the community’s first inclusive challah bake, one that benefitted a charitable organization.
The event drew a multi-denominational group of children, teens, and adults who made two braided loaves, one for themselves and another to be donated to the Challah Fund, a nonprofit that distributes challahs weekly to cancer patients at Robert Wood John University Hospital (RWJ) in New Brunswick.
Jarod Struminger, 13, of East Brunswick said he came with his father, Ronald, because “it is the right thing to do” to support those with disabilities and cancer patients. “It’s fun to help the community,” Jarod said.
The program, held April 20 at the Young Israel of East Brunswick, was sponsored by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey in partnership with Yachad, an Orthodox Union-affiliated organization that works with individuals with disabilities in the Jewish community.
The 25 children and 11 adults who attended all sported blue T-shirts bearing the phrase, “Inclusive Challah Bake, We all ‘Knead’ Each Other.” After the loaves were braided, attendees used crayons to color cards to attach to each challah being delivered through the Challah Fund.
“It’s a lovely idea for a multitude of reasons,” said Debra Bermann of East Brunswick, as she helped her 24-year-old daughter, Dina, knead dough. “It’s important that special needs kids and adults be included in regular activities of the Jewish community.”
She said Dina participates in the monthly Yachad program, which has a partnership with federation, in which “they do normal, everyday stuff like Zumba.”
“It’s been amazing to me to learn about Yachad and how federation is generously subsidizing these types of activities,” said Bermann.
Federation director of community impact Laura Safran said the genesis of the event began almost two years ago at a community meeting for those seeking federation grants. Representatives of both the Challah Fund and Friendship Circle, which provides socialization and Jewish activities to those with special needs, attended, and Safran had the idea to bring the two together. Although that pairing didn’t work out, it gave her the notion of having individuals with disabilities assist the fund. She mentioned it to Tobey Lass, co-coordinator of central New Jersey Yachad, who was equally enthusiastic.
“We love inclusiveness and the opportunity to participate in community events,” said Lass, who joined in the doughy activity.
Safran, who brought her two children to work on the challah alongside her, noted the evening’s program was “one-and-a-half years in the making.”
The event was chaired by Laurie Denenberg, Taryn Webber, and Susan Pearlman. Denenberg said that despite the hard work involved, it was a labor of love, pointing out the evident joy throughout the room.
One of those who was enjoying an evening with his peers was Moshe Rosenberg, 22, of Edison, who told NJJN, “It’s kind to make challah for Jews and all the other people. Everyone is going to make challah when the Messiah comes.”
Two young women who made the trip from Monmouth County to show their support for others were Terry Jemal, 17, of West Long Branch and Renee Sutton, 20, of Deal.
“We wanted to bake challah for a good cause,” said Jemal, while Sutton added, “It really is a mitzvah to do this.”
The Challah Fund began in 1994 by Dr. Michael Nissenblatt, associate director of oncology at RWJ. Nissenblatt has distributed thousands of loaves, referred to as “the bread of hope,” each Friday to cancer patients of all faiths through a team of volunteers from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds.