Princeton University Students Bake and Sell Challah to Support Hunger Relief Efforts
On any given Friday afternoon, Princeton University juniors Tamar Novetsky and
Renee Zwillenberg will most likely be found baking challah, a traditional Jewish bread eaten
on the sabbath and holidays.
“Being a student at Princeton, you often spend a lot of time just…doing things that can often
almost seem abstract and not real,” Novetsky said. “Sometimes it’s nice to just be holding
dough with your hands and physically getting your hands dirty.”
They’re not just in the baking business for the therapeutic aspect or to celebrate a holiday – they’re in it to give back to their community.
Novetsky and Zwillenberg are the founders of the Princeton chapter of Challah for Hunger, a
national organization whose chapters host bake sales to raise money and awareness for social justice causes.
As one of 80 university chapters, the group donates half of its bake sale proceeds to a charity designated by the national organization, which is currently MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. The other half goes to the local charity of the group’s choice, currently the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank. The group chose Mercer Street Friends because of its proximity to Princeton.
“If we combat hunger we should choose to fight it in our own area,” Zwillenberg said.
Princeton Challah for Hunger also supports international relief efforts as well. At one November bake sale, the group donated the proceeds to Syrian Refugee Aid.
The group has also found that it fills a need in the Center for Jewish Life and the wider
community for an ongoing social justice project. This charitable business model works because
it’s so accessible to the community, Zwillenberg said.
“You don’t have to leave campus,” she said. “Some people actually just come up to the table
while we’re selling and say, ‘I haven’t really donated to charity in a while, I don’t really want
bread, but here’s $5 for a donation.’”
The two first started baking and selling challah after Zwillenberg heard about Challah for Hunger from her sister, who bakes for the Cornell University chapter. Supported by staff members at Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life, they decided to do a small practice challah bake at the end of their freshman year, and they sold out quickly. After several more well-received trial bake sales, they officially incorporated the Princeton chapter of Challah for Hunger last spring.
“It was originally just us and whoever else we could cobble together, working with…a five
pound home Kitchenaid mixer and also mixing stuff by hand,” Novetsky said. “So that was
Once the group received permission last year to start baking in the Center for Jewish Life
kitchen, they were able to ramp up production significantly and recruit regular volunteers. They
now make about a hundred loaves and sell them for $5 each on Fridays every two or three weeks.
“We have the most amazing interactions with people who come to buy our bread,” Novetsky
said. “I love…figuring out what people like about us, why they’re interested in us.”
Princeton Challah for Hunger makes bread in three different varieties – plain, cinnamon sugar,
and chocolate chip – and uses only vegan ingredients.
“It would have been really difficult with (Princeton University) Environmental and Health Services if we were selling something with eggs…so originally we were like, ‘fine, we’ll just do away with all of that and make it vegan,’” Novetsky said. The improvisational choice drew in the vegan community as a whole new consumer base.
Zwillenberg said the group hopes to partner with the wider Princeton community in the future.
“I’d like to do more with the Mercer Street Food Bank, maybe have some of our volunteers go there and help package for a day, or have some of their volunteers come bake with us,” Zwillenberg said. “Maybe with the Princeton Jewish Center, to have their Hebrew school kids come and bake with us.”
That sense of community has been key to the Princeton chapter as well – Zwillenberg said the
volunteers are close with all the Center for Jewish Life dining staff, and have baked together so
often that they can recognize each other’s braiding styles.
“When we take challahs out of the oven, I can be like, oh I braided that one and Tamar braided
that one, because we do it often enough,” she said.
Novetsky said the group hopes to become an official campus organization next semester in order
to access more opportunities for funding and ensure the chapter’s longevity.
Princeton Challah for Hunger also wants to serve as a vehicle for cultural understanding on
campus and hopes to bring more cultural groups together in the futures, Zwillenberg said. Both
Muslim Jewish Dialogue and Muslim Student Association have baked with the group in the past.
“We’re not religious, we’re not denominational,” Zwillenberg said. “We’re just baking bread
and donating money.”
For more information about the Princeton chapter of Challah for Hunger or to find out when the next bake sale is, visit the group’s Facebook page.