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Archive for : Hillel

Repair Interview: Betsy Besser on Challah for Hunger

If Challah for Hunger had an official motto, it might be “think global, bake local.” The organization engages college students on colleges and universities across the country to bake and sell challah to raise money for local and national causes. With 67 active chapters, 16,844 loaves eaten, and $64,837 raised for social justice causes in 2013, they have proven the power of delicious bread – and committed volunteers! – to make a difference.

Recently, Repair the World chatted with Betsy Besser, a rising junior at University of Vermont to find out why she brought Challah for Hunger to her campus, how they have made it their own, and why peanut butter chocolate chip challah is a very, very good idea.

How did you first get involved with Challah for Hunger?
I grew up in Memphis, and going all the way up to Vermont for school really felt like going out of my comfort zone. I was looking for a way to connect my Jewish life, which felt familiar, to my school life. I didn’t immediately connect to the Hillel community, but then this past fall I was asked to be part of a Hillel Fellowship program that supports students in starting new initiatives on campus.

Building a Jewish community that cares about making a difference was a big part of what I wanted to do. I had seen several of my friends mention things about Challah for Hunger chapters at their universities, so I Googled it and thought it sounded really cool. I grew up with Shabbat dinner being a big part of my weekend, so I figured the program could be a great way to bring something new to UVM that incorporated my Jewish life.

How does the program work on your campus?
This past semester we baked every other week, and we would usually have about 20 or 25 volunteers show up. We make special flavors like peanut butter chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, and cherry walnut chocolate – and we are planning to do a pesto challah next year. Last year we would bake on Wednesdays and sell challah on Thursdays, along with hummus that we also made. Most people bought the challah as a snack to bring with them to the library or back to their dorms. We decided not to sell our challah on Fridays because the Chabad on campus gives out free challah on Fridays and we did not want to step on their toes.

challahs Next year, we are hoping to partner with another organization on campus called Feel Good that sells grilled cheese sandwiches and donates the money to an organization called The Hunger Project. We’re hoping that they will start making their sandwiches with our challah, and donate a percentage of the proceeds to Challah for Hunger. We are also hoping to start focusing even more on local food. One idea is to buy locally grown apples from Vermont and make a special Rosh Hashanah challah with them.

What has the response from the UVM community been like?
People in Burlington have really embraced the idea of making a difference through food, so the students have been really supportive as customers and volunteers. There are also a lot of great local bakeries and organizations that have gotten involved. For example, King Arthur Flour, which is based in Vermont, has been incredibly generous with donating eggs, honey, and sugar. UVM also has a kosher kitchen on campus called Vermont Kosher, and the head chef there, Rachel Jacobs, has been super supportive and brought great ideas to the program.

How have the students at UVM made the program their own?
This past semester we started to build a board. There are four other women on it, and not all of them are Jewish, which is really interesting. One of our goals was to make our Challah for Hunger chapter into something with broad appeal. We have found that people are really willing to come and bake or sell challah every week, even if they don’t have a Jewish connection to challah.

challah for hunger UVM What organizations do you support with the proceeds?
Half of the proceeds to go the American Jewish World Service and the rest goes to Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, which is a local hunger organization. We decided to support their work because they make a big positive impact on the Burlington community.

Any last thoughts?
I’m really thankful for Hillel for giving me the opportunity to bring Challah for Hunger to UVM, and for their continued support. If people want to learn more, they can check out our Facebook group, Groovy UV Challah for Hunger.

A Not So General Assembly

Students and leaders of Jewish communities around the country gathered in Baltimore on Nov. 11 for the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

The annual General Assembly (GA) is the largest gathering for American Jewish communal fundraising federations. At the event, the most important issues in Jewish communities around the country are discussed.

There were guest speakers and workshops related to topics of philanthropy, leadership, Jewish identity and support of Israel.

Philanthropy was a topic of great importance to three time GA attendee Sarah Kraut.

Since attending a Hillel alternative spring break trip her freshman year, Kraut, now a senior journalism major, has been involved in Maryland Hillel’s partnership with Repair the World.

“I think that [the GA] is a valuable experience for anyone because the worst thing that could happen is that you will come out knowing more about the Jewish landscape than you did before,” Kraut said.

Kraut attended the GA with a group of delegates sent by Maryland Hillel.

The Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life offers scholarships to urge students to attend conferences like the GA.

Maryland Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, according to its website, so Kraut said student attendance has been strong at the past three GAs she has attended.

Guest speaker David Gergen, a political analyst for CNN, gave the opening speech, titled “Changing the World,” about the post-election Jewish landscape for Israel.

Today, Israel has reached a cease-fire with Hamas after a week-long series of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Other speakers at the GA included Governor Martin O’Malley, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Kraut said her favorite moment at the GA was a small group chat she had with the president of American Jewish World Service Ruth Messinger.

Messinger is the former Manhattan borough president and ran for mayor of New York City in 1997 as the first woman to receive the Democratic Party nomination for that office.

Junior business and communications major Lexie Kahn also attended the GA and is a member of the Jewish Leadership Council.

“Jewish life doesn’t end after college; it’s something that continues on for the rest of your life, and just seeing how people take that one step further and make it a component of their daily life is really inspiring,” Kahn said.

Kahn said she would love to attend next year’s GA, which will take place in Israel.

The GA offers students the opportunity to network with the wider Jewish community. The variety of Jewish professionals in attendance allowed students to get a deeper look into experts’ experiences.

Showing how the youth of a Jewish community can be involved, Kahn said, was something that meant a lot to the speakers at the GA. According to Kahn, some speakers believe the youth are not active enough.

One student who is arguably active enough is Joseph Ehrenkrantz, a junior English and government and politics major.

He is a member of Am Ha’Aretz, a Jewish sustainability club, Hamsa, a Jewish LGBT club and Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Having never been to a GA before, Ehrenkrantz was surprised when his expectations weren’t met.

“I think that if the event is going to be successful in the future then there would have to be more communication between the students and the professionals there,” Ehrenkrantz said.

While he enjoyed speakers like Jacobs, who spoke about the modern Jew, Ehrenkrantz said the student’s voice was not very well represented. He said that some students felt they were more of an audience member than a participant in the GA.

Ehrenkrantz added that Gergen’s opening speech, which focused on events in history such as the civil rights movement, lost his attention.

“I think the students could vocalize the conditions of the present and emphasize that there is a lot to be done now, not just nostalgic memory of what was done yesterday,” Ehrenkrantz said.


Jewish Teens and Young Adults Mobilized to Volunteer in Affected Areas over Winter and Spring Breaks

NEW YORK, NY, DECEMBER 3, 2012 – In the wake of Superstorm Sandy’s destruction, Repair the World, a national nonprofit that works to inspire American Jews to volunteer, is offering micro-grants for winter and spring alternative break programs that focus on Hurricane Sandy relief and response efforts. Alternative breaks offer young adults a hands-on service-learning opportunity and give them the chance to experience how the integration of service, education and reflection can create a meaningful and positive change in themselves and in communities.

The micro-grants, ranging from $1,000 – $5,000, may be used by programs to help cover costs of the trip such as travel, supplies, staffing and local housing. Eligible groups should engage teens, college students and post-college-aged young adults (up to age 35) to serve at least 200 hours, to implement a disaster response service-learning curriculum developed by Repair the World, and to report on their experiences. All groups receiving a micro-grant must operate under or in connection to a 501(c)(3).

 “As a national organization headquartered in New York City, we are committed to helping Jewish young adults connect their passion for service and get their hands dirty with real opportunities,” said Will Berkovitz, SVP and Interim CEO for Repair the World. “We want young Jews across North America to dedicate themselves to hands-on volunteerism where it is most needed on the ground, responding to short, medium and long-term needs.”

The grants are made possible through the generous support of The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, whose partnership with Repair the World has helped thousands of Jewish young adults participate in high-quality immersive Jewish service-learning programs. In the coming months, Repair will continue to assess and identify local needs as they evolve in Sandy’s hard hit communities.

For more information, visit or contact Mordy Walfish at 646-695-2700 x 23 or [email protected].


Repair the World is a national nonprofit organization that mobilizes Jewish Americans to address the world’s most pressing issues through volunteering. Headquartered in New York City, we connect individuals with meaningful service opportunities to help their local, national and global communities, and we enable individuals and organizations to run effective programs rooted in Jewish values. For more information, visit Follow us on Twitter @RepairtheWorld.




Reflections On Hurricane Sandy and the Human Spirit

The following post by Repair staff member Talya Gillman, originally appeared on Maryland Hillel’s Blog for Change

“Nurses breathe for infants during Sandy hospital evacuation”; an article I read in the midst of Hurricane Sandy’s assault on the east coast.  It described how nurses and medical professionals from the neonatal intensive care unit at a New York City hospital descended nine flights of stairs (the power, and therefore elevators, were out) carrying the babies while simultaneously – and manually – pumping breathing bags that enabled the infants to stay alive while wind and water raged outside.  What a way to be welcomed into the world, the city – and lives – being ravaged by the storm, causing terror and chaos for those in the most affected areas.

And yet: what courage; what kindness; what generosity the nurses enveloped those little humans in.  I like to imagine that those are qualities the nurses breathed into the babies as they made careful journeys down those steps.  I like to think about the choices they made that night (that so many made that night) – to remain at work when they might have been home with their own loved ones, to act boldly in the face of danger in order to support those more vulnerable, and to do what was needed when circumstances were tense and stakes high – and how these choices created the possibility that the infants will grow up to engage with the world in similar ways; in ways characterized by the qualities that saved them.

These images make me think back to the first months of my brothers’ lives. Twins, they were born three and a half months prematurely – extremely sick at birth – and they, too, were cared for by ever-watchful and committed nurses.  Once they came home from the hospital to begin their miracle-lives, my parents began a weekly tradition that many Jewish parents carry out each Shabbat, of reciting the ancient blessing, “May God bless you and keep you. May God shine [God’s] countenance upon you and be gracious unto you, and may God bless you with peace.”

And it occurs to me that as Sandy stormed, the actions of the nurses in New York were an actualization of this blessing.  The nurses were breathing life and the best of humanity, the closest thing to “Godliness”, into the infants.  Regardless of what we each perceive “God” to be or represent, the blessing is about a universal truth; that beyond health, safety and happiness, our lives should also be marked with meaning. And such meaning comes from making certain choices; owning what it means to be human, and responsible. When we act courageously in the face of adversity or injustice, when we commit ourselves to the causes of people marginalized or more vulnerable than ourselves, and when we join in efforts to address the societal needs that visibly and silently surround us, we serve the most essential and meaningful cause there is: one another.

In the aftermath of Sandy’s ruin, young people have dispersed throughout the east coast to “breathe life” into devastation; to breathe comfort into despair.  Through their service, they, too, are carrying out the blessing.  Let us learn from their example, and the examples set by the nurses and hospital workers who cradled the newborns with compassion and care.  Let us commit ourselves to, now and throughout our lives, to acting in the ways those individuals have in the wake of disaster.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is not to be afraid.” But I’ve been thinking, and I’ve come to realize that at the end of the day, it’s all right to be afraid.  The most important thing, I believe, is that we help one another across that narrow passageway.

Repair at The GA

Ilana Gatoff and Laura Kassen, our AVODAH Corp members

The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly is a premier Jewish communal event attracting over 3,500 influential decision-makers, prominent leaders, and Jewish youth from around the world…so of course we had to be there too!

Repair the World will be represented at the GA in Baltimore next week, and we’re so excited to share the experience with you. Repair the World’s booth will be staffed by our dedicated AVODAH Corps members and members of our staff. Not only will they be on hand to provide information and answer any questions about Repair, but they will also give visitors a special first-look at our upcoming Read.Write.Repair. campaign! A visit to our table will also ensure you’re not left empty-handed – we’ll be giving away pins, stickers, postcards, and offering a chance to win some of our awesome t-shirts!

The GA has always been a hub of service-oriented ideas and development, but in recent years, a greater focus has also been placed on reaching out to young people as part of The Jewish Federation’s broader look to the future. The programs are designed to cover learning, sharing and building ideas to bring home to your community. Whether you want to find out how to raise money in this challenging economy, better use digital media to connect with communities, or learn how to encourage innovation and philanthropy, there are workshops and speakers present to teach you.

The scope of speakers and representatives at the GA is huge, and we’re thrilled that a couple of key members of the Repair family will be involved. One of the speakers from the Repair team is our consultant Dana Talmi, who founded Yahel – Israel Service Learning. In addition, Repair Fellow Jesse Rabinowitz will be in attendance and representing the University of Maryland Hillel, providing a student’s perspective to panel attendees. Both Dana and Jesse will be on the “Volunteering and Tikun Olam: Who is the Beneficiary?” panel on Monday, November 12 from 2:00pm – 3:30pm. This panel is sure to be a highlight of the conference! Panelists will present an in-depth look at service through a unique lens focusing on creating a meaningful experience for the volunteer vs. maximizing impact on the beneficiaries.

We are in the final stages of prepping our booth and getting our team ready for the conference, and we hope to see you there. If you can’t make it to Baltimore no worries, we’ll bring the booth to you! Follow us @RepairTheWorld (official hashtag #JFNAGA) where our staff will be live-tweeting from the conference. We’ll show you pics of our booth, give you a chance to win some of our fantastic SWAG, and share tidbits about new opportunities as we discover them!