Lending a Hand



March 31, 2020

On Fridays, the Steinbergers set up a table near the end of their driveway with bags of challot, a cardboard box with a slit for cash and a colorful sign, created by their children, that reads, “Challah Sale $5.”

The three-week-old initiative was started by Rabbi Andrea Steinberger and her husband Greg, who serve as rabbi and executive director of University of Wisconsin-Madison Hillel, respectively. Proceeds are supporting part-time employees whose livelihoods have been threatened by the closure of Adamah Neighborhood Table, a kosher restaurant at UW-Madison Hillel. Some of the affected workers are students.

“We’re finding energy and momentum to effect positive change during this time,” Rabbi Steinberger said. “That’s motivating us right now.”

Given social distancing mandates, the Steinbergers run their challah stand like a “lemonade stand on the honor system.” Buyers are encouraged to pre-pay using an online form before or after picking up their challah between 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. on Fridays. Cash payments can be left inside a cardboard box atop the stand.

The Steinbergers have raised more than $800 from selling curbside challot. Some of the earnings came from parents and alumni who lived miles away but wanted to contribute.

UW-Madison Hillel is just one of many Hillels across the nation that have taken steps to help professionals and students lessen financial strains caused by the novel coronavirus.

At Columbia University/Barnard College Hillel, an emergency fund was created for students in need. Those who are eligible can receive a stipend of up to $250.

Thus far, more than 40 checks totaling $9,392 have been issued. Students have submitted receipts for medical expenses, groceries and moving costs.

“We realized very early on that students were going to face a real financial burden,” said Brian Cohen, executive director of Columbia/Barnard Hillel.

The UJA-Federation of New York is providing $250,000 in emergency cash support for low-income CUNY Hillel students, many of whom are first-generation college goers.

Most juggle part-time jobs with their academic studies. The outbreak of the coronavirus has disrupted work hours for many students, leaving them with no source of income for groceries or tuition. 

In a public Facebook post, Merav Fine Braun, executive director of Hunter College Hillel, said: “We are a family, and we will continue to work together to support one another in the current reality. We are New Yorkers: we are scrappy, adaptable, savvy, and wise. We are in this together, and we will thrive through this.”

Shira Silver, co-president of University of Pennsylvania Hillel, helped create a fund to support workers laid off from their positions at Falk Dining Commons, a kosher dining hall on campus. The 21-year-old said many of the employees have served meals “with a warm smile” to Hillel students for over a decade.

“I was heartbroken,” Silver said. “The dining staff at Falk take care of us day in and day out, and I was shocked to hear the university wasn’t taking care of them in return.”

Although Falk Dining Commons is located in Penn Hillel, the staff is employed by the Bon Appétit Management Company, a campus dining provider. A story published in the Daily Pennsylvanian nearly two weeks ago reported that Bon Appétit would lay off its roughly 140-person dining staff after March 31 without pay.

“My immediate thoughts were, ‘What are they going to do? How can I be helpful?’ There was this strong gut response from our community to support the Falk dining staff because they’ve taken wonderful care of us for so long, and we have a responsibility to take care of them as well.”

Along with other Hillel student leaders and professionals, Silver fielded calls from students, alumni and parents who asked how they could offer support. Just days after the Bon Appétit layoffs made headlines, Penn Hillel created and promoted its fund on social media, raising over $25,000.


On March 31, Penn announced a series of emergency financial initiatives, ensuring Bon Appétit contract dining workers will be paid for the remainder of the semester. However, employees won’t receive their payments for another month, meaning they’ll be without pay for almost six weeks.

To make up for their lapse of income, Penn Hillel is working to issue checks to Falk employees as soon as possible. Professionals and students are also creating an ongoing fund to assist with unexpected emergencies.

Silver said she was excited to learn that university administration finally stepped up and took proper action.

“There’s just this genuine care that exists between the students and staff of Falk dining,” Silver said. “They know our names, and we know theirs. We know about their kids, and they know about our schoolwork. We’re family.”