Hillside—Not even the steady and bone-chilling winter rain got in the way of hundreds of devoted volunteers who came out to the Community Food Bank of NJ to prepare fresh dough and bake 1,000+ challahs on Tuesday.
According to June Schechner, the event chair for three years running, this special and heartfelt program was born from a desire for Jewish women to connect in a special way with the important needs of the New Jersey community at large. She expressed that the mitzvah of preparing challah, that is uniquely tied to Jewish women, can be even more far-reaching in its effort to nourish others. This event, which provides challah to hundreds of families and individuals in need, is a wonderful way to share this mitzvah on a global community scale, transcending the cultural differences of the recipients and the bakers. Traditional challah is formed into a loaf by braiding thick strands of dough, which Schechner described in her view of this project as a blending of various community cultures.
Flanking the volunteers were Jewish Federation of MetroWest NJ President Leslie Dannin Rosenthal and Dov Ben-Shimon, executive VP/CEO. They joined the cheery volunteers in mixing, kneading, rolling and braiding dough before it was transported to the kitchen area for baking. Ben-Shimon was all smiles as he worked alongside his volunteer companions. “We are grateful to all of the volunteers, and we can see their impact in building the Jewish community and saving people one at a time. We are so proud of the inspiring professional and lay leadership for their service and dedication to the wider community and exemplifying our core values.”
The process was supervised by the Community Food Bank of NJ’s professional chef staff, along with Mashgiach Rabbi Ari Elbaz of Lakewood, New Jersey. The project was promoted as a “bake one and take one,” but many volunteers said they planned to leave both of their challahs for distribution to those in need. Fresh fruit snacks were available in the resource room, which was also stocked with pamphlets, a delicious challah recipe, “goody bags” and other information about food projects across the state, co-funded by Jewish Federation resources.
The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest supports 27 partner agencies that assist the most vulnerable members of the community. Some eye-opening statistics, according to the Federation, are the nearly 1.2 million people in New Jersey who are “food insecure,” of which 400,000 are children. Almost 900,000 (10 percent of the state’s population) are SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) recipients, 71 percent are families with children, and 32 percent with elderly or disabled family members. Soon, the largest generation in U.S. history will be retired adults over 60, and in New Jersey alone by the year 2030, “over 60” seniors will comprise 25 percent of the population. Most seniors in the state who are food insecure aren’t registered in the SNAP program, primarily due to the complexity of the registration process and the cumbersome, frequent re-registration that is required. Nationally, just 24 percent of eligible seniors are receiving the food benefits that they need, partially for these same reasons.
The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest partnered with over 40 Jewish organizations across the state for this program.
The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest welcomes volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to drive these important programs. Federation programs help real people and make a huge impact. What a great way to help children learn about giving of their time and energy, while possibly fulfilling chesed-hours requirements for their schools. Contact the Federation about information for individual, family and group opportunities that make a difference. Visit them at www.jfedgmw.org.
By Ellie Wolf