By Stephanie Burton
Some students like challah for their Shabbat table; others eat it just because it's good. And when they purchase the bread from the Challah for Hunger project at the Claremont Colleges each Friday, they're also providing food for those in need. The proceeds from the weekly challah sales benefit the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) to assist in helping refugees in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan.
The Challah for Hunger project started a year ago, when life-long challah baker and current Hillel at the Claremont Colleges President Ellie Winkelman decided that she wanted to find and build the Jewish community on campus while making a difference in the world and sharing her expertise on challah-baking. At that time, Hillel at the Claremont Colleges Vice President Melinda Koster had just returned from a summer program with Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps and was determined to do something about the dire situation in Darfur.
"The fusion of Sudan activism and challah baking was an obvious fit. I tend to describe myself as the advocacy/legislative arm of Challah for Hunger and Ellie as the baking expert," Koster said.
Each week, groups of six to eight students work in shifts for one-and-a-half hours making dough and baking more than 100 loaves of chocolate chip, cinnamon and sesame challah at the Scripps College dining hall kitchen. The loaves are usually sold at a popular outdoor location, and Hillel at the Claremont Colleges buys Challah for Hunger bread for their Friday-night Shabbat dinners.
"Students are addicted to our bread," Koster said.
The challah's popularity also allows the students to spread their message throughout campus. Students distribute AJWS postcards with information about the situation in Darfur. They also provide letter-writing materials and petitions, such as the "Darfur Peace and Accountability Act," at the point of sale, and they offer discounts to those who take the time to write something. The Coalition for Darfur provides Hillel at the Claremont Colleges with green "Save Darfur" bracelet and T-shirts to sell with the challah. This year alone, students have raised more than $2,700, and since the project began last October, the students have sent more than $6,000 to AJWS.
The students at the Claremont Colleges are very involved in Darfur advocacy beyond the challah sales. Last month, Hillel at the Claremont Colleges held a "Darfur Day of Action" on campus, during which some people fasted for the entire day as part of the luxury fast sponsored by Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND). Others were silent for the entire day and displayed signs explaining facts about Darfur. Challah for Hunger displayed "Darfur Drawn," a collection of artwork created by Darfurian children. Together all participants ended the day with French toast made from their own challah.
Thanks in large part to the Challah for Hunger participants, Darfur awareness on the Claremont campuses has increased dramatically during the past year.
"Our work, in conjunction with other student organizations' work on the subject, has managed to make most, if not all, students aware about Darfur," Koster said.
Stephanie Burton is a senior at The George Washington University and an intern in Hillel's communications department.