Deeply rooted in Judaism is the impulse to help others when all seems helpless, and to unite others in spite of division. During the peak of COVID-19 in May, Teaneckers like the Loffman sisters were forced to stay at home, stifling that impulse to help where there was seemingly no opportunity for it.
At the same time, the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbury were sparking a revolution across the country. People in quarantine were left with the internet as the only window to the storms wreaking havoc outside.
Very much aware of these issues, Eliana, Hannah, Sara and Marni Loffman chose the proactive route, connecting the ancient tradition of challah-baking with their passion for activism. Observing their family’s history of hospitality, empathy and chesed, they were eager to make a difference through the ceremonial bread-making, knowing time was not going to be an issue.
Hannah said, “As a house of ‘people persons,’ we have always been acutely aware of the way people are interconnected, and the power we have to hurt and heal one another.”
It became clear to them that selling freshly-baked challahs could comfort those in need and serve as a platform for fundraising. In doing so, they could uphold values of solidarity and justice, which speak to the ethos of their family and Jewish community at large.
The sisters have known the ins and outs of challah-baking since elementary school, and particularly in this unprecedented time of isolation, it has served them as a powerful symbol of unity.
“In taking these different strands of dough,” Marni explained, “crafted in isolation and later unified, we are reminded of the powerful ways that human beings are also enmeshed with each other, inevitably connected, while also maintaining our unique experiences and histories.”
Hannah said, “Creating the challah affirms that weaved into our Judaism is a responsibility to heed our interconnectedness with others, and support their fights for justice and equity.”
As Jews with a collective memory of discrimination and racialization, the girls understand that every individual deserves the freedom of identity in a world of equal opportunity.
Marni said, “When we hear the voices of Black people in our country asking us to listen, fighting for change and mourning the violence caused by racism, it is our obligation as Jews, and frankly just as human beings to value and uplift those lives, testimonies and experiences of Black and brown people.”
After attending Black Lives Matter protests in June, the sisters officially launched the Challah Back Girls to fuel the worldwide movement toward social justice by fundraising for various organizations. “This project is one way to learn more about the amazing work different organizations across the nation are doing to deepen our capacity to humanize and support each other,” Marni said.
Their choice of organizations reflects their faith in the idea that all humans are created b’tzelem Elokim, or in the image of God. This has inspired them to promote justice for people of all walks of life and, as Sara said, “value the notion of thinking globally and acting locally.”
The Challah Back Girls highlight the works of a different organization every month and have many more events and organizations lined up for the future spotlight. Some of the organizations they have featured include The Color of Autism Foundation, which curbs the effects of racial inequities on families with autistic children; misdiagnosed and untreated mental conditions have been a major factor in the incarceration of colored people. Saving Mothers is an organization dedicated to the eradication of preventable maternal deaths. Over 300,000 women and girls die yearly due to pregnancy and childbirth complications; this statistic is skewed toward Black women, where 75 percent of these deaths could have been prevented with low-cost interventions. They also direct some of their “doughnations” to Neighborfood Meals, which has kept the roof over many struggling restaurants by purchasing their meals and donating them to communities in need.
As die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fans, the sisters were impressed by the team’s offensive lineman, Zach Banner, who condemned Desean Jackson’s anti-Semitic Twitter post in July. Seeing that his B3 Foundation lent mentorship and empowerment to youth of all color, the sisters allocated funds to the foundation.
In an unexpected turn of events, the Steelers player expressed his gratitude for the sisters, posting a video eating the different kinds of challah on Twitter. He tweeted, “These incredible women have used their passion and love to raise money for a lot of organizations, especially the ones who are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.” Banner’s endorsement took the Challah Back Girls to the press, and since that point, they have reached thousands of activists and challah enthusiasts on social media. “We’re committed to the educational component of our work and mission,” Eliana said, “which demands that we engage the larger community on as many platforms as possible, as often as possible.”
In July, the girls went from making 20 challahs a week to around 200; they now ship to over 300 cities and have surpassed 1,000 orders.
Although all are motivated by an innate obligation to help others, “the initiative wouldn’t be possible without each of our contributions and unique strengths,” Sara said. In the pursuit of fueling a movement for change, Sara has focused on marketing strategies for the Challah Back Girls, using platforms on social media to increase their outreach. Marni’s commitment to equity motivates her to find causes outside of the Jewish community in need of more exposure. Hannah’s culinary expertise brought the challahs to life, and her graduate studies have inspired her to take a proactive stance in the fight for social change. At just 16, Eliana’s Gen-Z perspective and attention to thought partnerships has encouraged the sisters to increase the initiative’s appeal to younger crowds to address more recent problems in society. The Challah Back Girls also have deep gratitude for their kind and supportive parents, who inspired their passion for activism and helped every step of the way. They are additionally thankful for the volunteers from local Jewish day schools who help with packaging.
The sisters are still torn over which is the most delicious flavor, although whether it be the plain, chocolate chip, raisin, coffee crumb, “everything but the bagel” or the most recent blue and white Chanukah challah, the end result is always soft and delicious; most importantly, each purchase is another step toward justice.
“We encourage you to help us bake the world a more just and compassionate place by ordering challah for yourself, sending challah as a gift, donating to our initiative directly, reaching out to us with questions or nominating an organization as a #challahbackorg.”
Feel free to visit their website www.challahbackgirls.com, email them at [email protected], and follow them on social media for updates and drool-worthy photos. They can be found on Instagram (@challahbackgirls_), Facebook (@ChallahBackGirls) and Twitter (@challahbackgrls).
By Josh Gindi