Challah, pronounced holl-ah, is a Jewish sweetbread that is traditionally served during Shabbat on the day of rest in Judaism-Fridays, for those not in the know. The taste and smell of the sweetbread are inviting to anyone who is new to challah, or to anyone who likes to eat something delicious, for that matter.
Members of CSUN Hillel and Matadors Promoting Activism (MPACT) didn’t just provide CSUN students a chance to try challah and rake up some scratch in the process. On Friday, Feb. 8, with their “Challah back for Darfur” bake sale, the proceeds of which go to the victims of the ongoing violence in the western Sudanese region, the provided a chance for both buyers and sellers to make some kind of difference and bring light to a situation that has many of the facts shrouded in darkness.
The coverage that makes it on television about Darfur has made the region synonymous with death and despair, when it gets any coverage at all. In June of 2005, two years after the conflict started, between CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, FOX News and MSNBC, they aired 485 segments on the “Runaway Bride,” 1,534 segments on Tom Cruise’s relationship with Katie Holmes and 6,248 segments on Michael Jackson’s court case, while the 6 networks aired a total of 126 segments on Sudan, according to the American Progress Action Fund and the BeAWitness organization.
And yet, there are people, students in fact, that know about what’s going on and are willing to donate their time and energy to make a difference, students like the ones who came on Thursday night before the sale to bake challah in the kitchen of the CSUN Hillel clubhouse. The preparations for both baking and selling the callah were open to all who wanted to participate.
As Jewish Campus services corps-fellow at CSUN, Nia Taylor, felt that this is a great experience for anyone to get involved and learn about Jewish culture and be active for a good cause.
“We want to work with students on campus, or wherever they are, to engage them and create meaningful Jewish experiences for Jews and non-Jews alike, whatever it might be,” said Taylor.
Deaf Studies and Political Science junior Silvia Torres accepted the open invitation to assist in the challah preparations when she arrived early to the clubhouse for a meeting about the “Alternative to Spring Break” program, which was unrelated to the bake sale. After hearing about “Challah back for Darfur” from Taylor, Torres decided to join in on braiding the dough that would be baked and sold the next day. She first heard about the conflict and what is going on in Darfur during a conference regarding world hunger.
Although preparing challah was new to her, with assistance from the new people she had met, she was able to make her bread braiding presentable.
“It was hard at first, it was sticking to my hands, but then one of the girls [in the kitchen] told me to do it really fast so the dough wouldn’t stick to them. Then, eventually, I got the hang of it-the bread turned out pretty,” said Torres.
Torres felt that the experience and contributing to helping those in Darfur was rewarding.
“I think [the bake sale] is wonderful. It is something that might seem so small, but is so big,” said Torres. “As young students, we can make a difference. We can bring awareness and we do have a lot of power, it is time to demonstrate the power and ability that we have.”
Other students helping in the kitchen were much more familiar with making challah, like history senior Mirie Wiesenberg, who assisted Torres and others who were new to the process, showing them the proper way to braid the dough. She gave credit for her culinary abilities to her mother, whom she helps make the sweetbread every week for the Jewish day of rest.
Wiesenberg said that the tradition of giving and helping other people within Judaism perfectly coincides with the objective of the bake sale.
“Challah ties in the cultural aspect of Judaism and being able to help other people,” said Wiesenberg. “Because a big part of Judaism is being communal citizen and reaching out to the community.”
Taylor agrees, saying that the goal is to give a helping hand to people. “As Jewish Americans and during the holocaust, we wanted people to reach out to us and this is our way to give back to another community who are suffering under uncontrollable circumstances,” said Taylor.
President of CSUN Hillel, Danielle Cohen, was also on hand, contributing to the dough braiding with plans to help sell challah the following day. She says that, since going to New Orleans with MPACT during her spring break in 2007 to help build homes for the victims of hurricane Katrina, she says she tries to take every opportunity available to help those in need.
As the baking came to a close, new and old acquaintances said their goodbyes and see-you-tomorrows as the aroma of freshly baked bread filled the kitchen, with the last batch of challah taken out of the oven and placed on the counter to cool before being bagged and ready for the next day’s sale.
The money made during “Challah back for Darfur” was donated to the Jewish Federation, who will send the proceeds, along with their own charitable donations, to Sudan.
The bake sale, which has been held for the last three semesters, originated as part of a community service effort by Hillel, initiated with a grant given to the club by CSUN alumnus Bruce Whizin, through his organization, the Whizin Foundation, to start a philanthropic club.
The decision to hold an event to help aid those in Darfur was that of club members like CSUN Hillel co-chairs Elizabeth Cobrin and Amy Mendelson.
“It was something that the other co-chair and I was very passionate about,” said Cobrin. “Since [Mendelson] is studying abroad for the year, I took over and I decided to continue it because it is something nice for students to reach out and help people who really need it.”
The bake sale was conducted outside of the Matador bookstore, with volunteers from Hillel, MPACT and the Muslim Student Association.
English-literature junior and MSA member Minahil Mushtaq heard about the event during an MSA meeting and came to support the cause of “Challah back for Darfur” by helping to sell the sweetbread. After arriving late to the CSUN Hillel clubhouse to help bake the challah, Mushtaq still wanted to contribute, so she volunteered to help sell the bread with the members of CSUN Hillel and MPACT.
“I thought being involved with the bake sale was a good because it is inter-faith and it brings different people together for a good cause. Also I wanted to be more pro-active with my support,” said Mushtaq.
She also looks forward to being active in more events that are held to aid the victims of the violence in Darfur, as well as those in need.
“I plan to definitely participate in any kind of good causes that are out there,” said Mushtaq.
Cohen shares Mushtaq’s enthusiasm of working with other clubs in charitable efforts.
“We look forward to start working with other groups and clubs on campus because getting along and getting to know other groups and what they believe and what their thoughts are on other issues is important,” said Cohen.
Although “Challah back for Darfur” was held on a Friday, the bake sale went well, with both students and faculty buying bread until there was none left.
Mathematics professor Chad Sprouse was sitting by the bookstore, about to eat his lunch when noticed the noise from the bake sale being well within ear-shot of his chosen dining area. Sprouse soon made the challah an addition to his lunch.
“It seems like a good cause and I like food,” said Sprouse.
Debbie Hellman, a staff member of the IT Media Services on campus, rushed over to buy bread when seeing the students selling challah. Hellman said that she always tries to support all student organizations when she sees them working so diligently for their cause.
Vincent Williamson, a sophomore who was on h
is way to the bookstore, was struck in a more personal matter when seeing the “Challah back for Darfur” sale aiming to provide aid to the people of the Sudanese region.
“I believe in helping less fortunate people because I have been in some less fortunate situations myself and wanted someone to help me out, so it is not a problem to help someone out if I am in a position to help,” Williamson said.