Arts & Culture

The Big Jewcy: Eli Winkelman, Challah for Hunger

Eli Winkelman is on a mission to do some good in this world, and she’s doing it by selling the official bread of the Jews.  The organization she founded, Challah for Hunger, raises money and awareness for hunger and disaster … Read More

By / June 10, 2010

Eli Winkelman is on a mission to do some good in this world, and she’s doing it by selling the official bread of the Jews. 

The organization she founded, Challah for Hunger, raises money and awareness for hunger and disaster relief, through the baing and sale of challah bread.

How did the idea for Challah for Hunger come about? I’ve always found baking to be a special activity for me: You take these ingredients–which are often pretty gross to eat on their own–and you put them all together with your hands and at the end, you’ve produced something tangible (as opposed to a certain number of characters on a computer screen) and delicious, and you can share your product with others and bring smiles to people’s faces.  When I arrived at college (Scripps College, one of the Claremont Colleges near LA), I didn’t exactly know what to do with myself.  So I started making challah, using the Hillel kitchen.  I had learned how to bake challah from my mom a few years earlier, when I decided to become vegan and she said that was fine, but if I wanted vegan challah, I’d have to bake my own.  I told my roommate at school that I was making challah every week, and she told some people who turned up to learn from me.  The second or third week, about fifteen people came.  They returned week after week, reporting that their friends had eaten all of their challah.  So I saw that there was demand for this product that people enjoyed making, and I thought that we should jump on that opportunity and do some tzedek work. This was in the fall of 2004, when not many people knew what was going on in Darfur, Sudan.  Melinda Koster, another student and a member of the Hillel student board, had learned about Darfur through her summer internship.  She came to school determined to cultivate student activism on our campus.  So Melinda had a cause and needed a way to support it, and the challah bakers and I had a program and were looking for a cause.  It was a perfect fit. Bill Clinton says to start from where you are.  Challah for Hunger wasn’t some grand scheme or eureka moment.  I enjoy baking, so that’s what it was about at first.  My sister enjoys being social.  So she started an Austin-based organization called CharityBash.  It’s pretty similar to Challah for Hunger, except with parties instead of challah.  Any plans for a national challah bake off? Well, I will say that on our intranet site, which we call ChallahNet, the most vigorous topic of discussion among the chapters is about different challah varieties.  Our most popular challah flavors, across the board, are chocolate chip and cinnamon sugar.  But the chapters go all out: garlic, rosemary, pecan pie challah, and more.  Probably the most creative was this one, from the Vassar chapter: Their flavor of the week for Halloween 2009 was vampire challah with white chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, red sugar, and strawberry sauce ‘blood’ on top. We are planning a national Challah for Hunger retreat, and I’m sure we’ll do some actual baking. To tell you the truth, I want to do challah dough track and field day.  Like, toss the challah dough, or challah dough wrestling. 50% of the profits made go to American Jewish World Service‘s Sudan Relief and Advocacy Fund, and the other half go to a charity that the chapter picks.  Do you know what some of those charities have been? Each chapter decides what causes and organizations to support with 50% of their profits.  A few months ago, we launched our National Giving Board, to help each chapter go through its own "critical giving process," to ensure that we’re giving well and that CfH volunteers learn from the experience. Some chapters focus all of their profits on Darfur, like our UCLA chapter which has a very close relationship with Jewish World Watch or Emory which donates to local refugee aid through the Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta. Many of the chapters choose to support local relief organizations, such as Dutchess Outreach (Vassar), Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (Binghamton), or Food for Lane County (Eugene).  The chapters have also supported organizations like the Proyecto Jardin community garden in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles (Scripps) and Neighborhood Homework House (Pomona). Bill Clinton gave Challah for Hunger a shout out: did he get a free loaf ? Actually, that’s how CfH first came to his attention.  I gave him a loaf of challah when he spoke on my campus during my senior year!  I knew I didn’t have a lot of time to talk, so I tried to say everything all at once, and I handed him like six things, in the hopes that he would take a moment to look at any of what I handed him.  So he probably didn’t eat eat that challah, because I probably seemed like a crazy person.  When his book Giving, which mentions CfH, was published in the fall of 2007, one of the other Challah founders and I went to a book signing.  We took him chocolate chip challah, but he wouldn’t eat it because of health concerns, so he gave it to his staff.  Finally, the Clinton Global Initiative University‘s second conference was in Austin.  CGIU had recruited local support–including my parents–to host the meeting in Austin.  So my whole family went, and of course, I took challah.  I even baked my "healthy challah," 100% whole wheat, with agave instead of sugar, and grapeseed oil, which is a high heat oil.  All day I was hoping to see President Clinton, to finally give him some challah he would actually eat, but it just didn’t seem to be working out.  I had started the day with a big basket of challah, which had dwindled down to just one loaf by late afternoon.  My family decided to leave right before the big session to close the conference.  We were walking out and I had given up all hope of finding President Clinton, so my mom started eating the last loaf.  But then, through an open door, I spotted him!  I darted into the giant room and somehow walked straight past the security.  My sister and dad followed me, but my mom was still focused on the challah, and she got stopped by the security.  I went straight up to President Clinton and he said something like, "Hi, Eli!  Where’s my challah?"  I tried to explain that I brought a bunch but it had all been eaten, and he interrupted and joked, "Oooh, I thought you wanted me to be on a diet!"  So I called to my mom, so she could show him the basket that now held only crumbs.  My mom, who’s 5’1, was behind this wall of giant security men and she couldn’t hear me or see me waving at her.  So finally, President Clinton had to call her over.  She walked over to us, and there was still some challah left over.  So he ate it!  My sister flipped out, because President Clinton was eating our mom’s leftovers.  (In one of the attached photos, he’s looking at the mostly empty basket in my mom’s hands.  In another, he just took a bite and he’s holding some challah in his hand.) Now my dream is to bake challah for Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, but apparently she’s gluten-free, so I need to do some experimenting.