Interview with Eli Winkelman
Challah for Hunger
I love the variety of people I’m able to interview for my website – I learn so much! This is especially true this time. Once again I 'stumbled upon' a talented redhead -- I saw a YouTube video of a lovely, articulate, red-haired young woman, Eli Winkelman. She was enthusiastically explaining her "Challah For Hunger" project! – I was intrigued!
I love hearing about young people doing awesome stuff! Here's an example in this Jewish young lady who found a way to do something positive in her community and also benefit people across the globe, all through her love of baking.
Additionally, although I’m a non-Jew, I’m a believer in Jesus (Yeshua) and have a love in my heart for the Jewish people and Israel. So I was eager to find out more about this Challah project entrepreneur and interview her!
So what is Challah for Hunger (CfH)?
I discovered it’s a social action program that raises money and awareness of victims of disasters and poverty, specifically hunger. They do this through the production and sale of handmade challah bread. Their focus -- "changing the world, one loaf at a time." Fifty percent of each chapter's profits are donated to the national Challah for Hunger cause - the American Jewish World Service's Sudan Relief and Advocacy Fund. The remaining fifty percent may be donated to an organization chosen by the chapter.
How did it all start?
It began in 2004 when Eli was a student at Scripps College. She just had a small idea –- bake delicious fresh challah weekly, sell it to faculty and students, use the money for hunger and disaster relief. It started because she enjoyed baking and began making her version of her mother’s challah recipe. Others wanted to learn, loved it, and she saw the demand for the product; it was a hit. About this time she also met up with a fellow student and learned about the Darfur tragedy. So the challah bakers found a program to support. This was a perfect fit and by word of mouth the idea spread to other colleges. There are now numerous campus chapters across the USA. Eventually even former President Clinton noticed it and Eli had a chance to meet him. The Challah bread project has inspired Jewish students and customers, as well as been educational for non-Jews.
So, what is Challah bread??
Challah is a braided bread made by Jews throughout the world for Sabbath and holidays. The Challah for Hunger project uses a basic Challah bread recipe which is altered to make many flavors of challah including – plain, chocolate chip, Mexican hot chocolate, mint chocolate, cranberry chocolate, peanut butter chocolate, chai, whole wheat, vegan cinnamon sugar, jalapeno cheese, and more... Yum!!!
Fix a nice beverage, sit down and put your feet up, and let’s find out more about Eli and her project....on to the interview!
1) Thanks so much Eli for taking time from your busy day, and I'm delighted you agreed to my interview! Please briefly tell us about your family and where you grew up.
We're from the Detroit area originally and I grew up in Austin, Texas. My dad does seasonal retail (he works year round, but the company sets up stores mostly during winter time). My mom is a registered nurse, although she doesn't work and instead is a full-time mom and volunteer. My younger sister is a student at St. Edward's University in Austin, where she is also the executive director of CharityBash. CharityBash hosts monthly parties that each benefit a local non-profit. My brother is a student at Tulane University in New Orleans.
2) You are such a beautiful redhead… Was your red hair a surprise for your parents? You said your sister is a redhead as well, but are there other redheads in your family tree somewhere?
Wow, thank you. My mom's hair used to be red; she says it faded with each kid. My dad's grandfather also had red hair. There's a story that when I was born, my dad's grandmother saw my red hair and said, to my mom with her bright red hair, "She gets it from my husband."
My sister is a redhead as well, although we have different shades of red and she straightens her hair while I stay curly.
My brother's hair is brown, although it does have red highlights in the sun.
My 3-year-old cousin (my dad's brother's kid) has the coolest hair! She has a fro, and it's practically my color in the sun.
3) As always when I interview redheads, I have to ask if you dealt with being teased because of your red hair and fair skin? Do you have any advice for parents or kids out there about this?
I was definitely teased for my hair color, and it made me very uncomfortable. I'm actually writing this to you from a backpacking trip in Europe with a friend who in high school called me strawberry patch. Now he has a red beard!
My advice probably isn't very useful. For people who say, "Do you know how much people pay to have red hair?" just smile and say thank you. And you don't have to let people touch your hair. For dumb boys, I like the line, "You'll never know" and then ignoring them.
I'm not sure if it would have helped me to have one of my parents somehow prepare me for the teasing. I'm not great at thinking on my feet, so it probably would have been good if someone had said to me that I could ignore inappropriate comments and just walk away.
One of the hardest parts for me of having red hair is always standing out. I think that teachers called on me more because of it, and people tend to remember me more because I'm recognizable. It just means that I always have to be ready to be called on or spotted in a crowd. So, again, smile.
Having red hair can be powerful, and when you realize that and accept it, you can use it the way you want. Here's an interesting article about women and power [Deb's note: This is an article from Elle magazine].
4) You attended college and the "Challah for Hunger" grew out of your own love for baking and seeing the demand for the product. Were you surprised by the popularity of this project? Why do you think the college kids embraced it so enthusiastically?
The popularity of Challah for Hunger still surprises and inspires me! I think that a few aspects of the project lead to its success: the bread is delicious, and baking it with your friends is fun, and it's for social justice, so it's "fun you can feel good about" (to quote CharityBash's tagline).
5) I read in a previous interview that you felt this Challah project was an opportunity for you to "do some tzekek work" – For us non-Jews, can you explain what ‘tzededk work’ refers to? Is this an important concept in the Jewish faith?
Tzedek is a very important concept in Judaism! In the Torah (the Hebrew Bible), it says that Abraham was chosen "laasot tzedek umishpat," to do justice. There is also a line that says, "tzedek, tzedek tirdov," meaning, "justice, justice shall you pursue." Maimonides, a great Jewish thinker from the 12th century, "argued that ensuring the just state was in fact the primary purpose of all Jewish law (Guide for the Perplexed 32:7)." Shmuly Yankowitz, Uri L'Tzedek.
So what exactly is tzedek? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, explains, "Justice plus compassion equals tzedek, the first precondition of a decent society." ... "Judaism is a religion of love: You shall love the Lord your G-d; you shall love your neighbour as yourself; you shall love the stranger. But it is also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts (who would not bend the rules, if he could, to favour those he loves?). It is also a religion of compassion, for without compassion law itself can generate inequity."
6) Has this Challah project helped you educate non-Jews about the Jewish faith and culture? Do you feel this is important and why?
Challah for Hunger serves as an entry point for Jews and non-Jews to learn more about Jewish faith, culture and community. I think it's important for people to learn about others, and I think it's important for people to have community. Learning about others lets us understand others, even if we don't always agree, and also gives us the opportunity to learn from that other person's or culture's wisdom. Community is one of the most important inputs for having high life satisfaction, as Robert Putnam explains in his book Bowling Alone. In fact, Putnam finds that belonging to no groups and smoking are pretty much equally bad for your health. Baking and breaking bread together has always been a symbol of community.
Learning about Judaism or Jewishness is not the primary objective of Challah for Hunger, and that's good because that really lets people who don't identify as Jewish become involved--and that leads to more people becoming involved.
7) Recently you’ve been interviewed, had magazine articles done, have videos on YouTube, and met President Clinton, etc., regarding you and your project. What’s been the scariest thing about all this exposure and publicity? What’s been the most fun thing about it?
It's a lot of pressure! I just wanted to bake challah because I couldn't find my own place when I arrived at college; and it's become this thing that, yes, led to an interview with President Clinton. People see me as a leader, and I have to be patient with myself when I'm not exactly the leader or person I want to be.
I suppose it's similar to being a redhead: People are looking at you and expecting certain things from you. There's a grace that comes from accepting that and living with it--and I'm still working on it.
Definitely speaking with President Clinton has been the most fun, publicity-wise. But my favorite part of Challah for Hunger is still baking and eating the challah.
8) Where did you get your original challah bread recipe? Do you have a simplified version you use for your Project that is shared with others to stay consistent?
In high school, I decided to become vegan. My mom said, "Fine, but make your own challah from now on." I took her recipe and left the eggs out.
We've since simplified that recipe further, especially with the guidance of Chef Dale McDonald who supervised the original chapter at Scripps College. Our recipe is as easy and low-cost as possible so that our chapters--which often bake on a large scale and with volunteers who may not have much baking experience--can use it successfully. This is our official Challah for Hunger recipe, although chapters often get creative and do their own thing. Our priority is that the challah is delicious, not that it's all exactly the same. We do encourage each chapter to make its challah consistent; customers should know what they're getting week-after-week.
9) I understand the most popular challah flavors are chocolate chip and cinnamon sugar (yumm!) but I read you are a vegan and have your own ‘healthy challah’ recipe. Can you share why you become a vegan? Plus, can you divulge the ingredients you use for your ‘vegan, healthy challah? [Okay, I'm almost a vegan so want to know!]
I'm vegan for every reason you can imagine: health, ethics, environment, and more. I've been a vegetarian my whole life, and in high school I read a brochure about the experiences of egg-laying hens and milk-producing cows. I felt like a jerk. After seeing it, I couldn't not see it--like taking the magic pill in The Matrix or The Meatrix. I couldn't be part of it, and I definitely couldn't pay people for something that was produced in the way that most eggs and milk are produced. Animals are not machines, but they are treated as such: This chicken's broken, so throw it away. That's not a system I want to be part of.
If you're interested in the health aspects of avoiding meat, I recommend The China Study. Dr. Colin Campbell's research, a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, "eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.'
"The findings? 'People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease... People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored.'"
For my "healthy challah," I use whole wheat flour, salt, grapeseed oil, agave nectar, water and yeast. Many people probably wouldn't classify this as healthy, but it's definitely healthier than standard challah.
[Deb's Note: I found a basic Challah recipe to get you started after you've read my interview. Just CLICK HERE to download the free 1-page .PDF file that you can print out. (If you don't have 'Adobe Reader' to open it, you can download it free from their website by Clicking HERE. Adobe Reader allows you to open and read PDF files.)
10) I’m so inspired by your story because you’ve shown one person really can make a positive difference in their community, sphere of influence, and even other countries. Any advice for people who have a passion or interest like you did and how to move forward?
I think the "informational interview" is key. In Pirkei Avot, a compilation of ethical teachings from the rabbis hundreds of years ago, we are told to "make for yourself a teacher." Find people who you can learn from, and then learn from them.
Also, if you're starting a project, record everything! Be organized, and keep as much information as possible. ......'THE END'......
Thanks again to Eli for taking time to do the interview! I found her story so inspirational. It just proves that one person really can make a difference –- right where we are planted.
I also enjoyed learning a bit more about the Jewish faith -- just because for me personally these past few years I've been privileged to begin learning about the richness of the Hebrew and Jewish roots of the Bible that I love, and I'm so grateful to the Jewish people -- its wonderful!
Plus, I appreciate her sharing about her vegan lifestyle and reasons for that, which I happen to agree with. I know firsthand how this change of diet can heal and help. (My husband was cured of end-stage kidney cancer by going vegan through the Hallelujah Diet/lifestyle plus lots of prayer!).
Well, for my readers, I hope this has inspired you to follow through to pursue your own interests and see what happens!! – just like Eli it might change your community, sphere of influence, or even people miles and miles away.
Visit her Challah for Hunger websitee and maybe even start your own ChF chapter.Visit their Facebook pages.Visit their Flickr photostream page.Eli also writes for The Jew and the Carrot blog (Jews, food, and contemporary issues)
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