2017-04-12 / Voice at the Shore

Hillel, challah baking, and the act of chesed

Hillel- Young Leadership Director Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties

Student leaders at Stockton Hillel truly appreciate how their lives are enriched by the support of local Jewish community members and agencies. Accordingly, our student leaders wanted to find a meaningful way to give back.

Specifically, they wanted to give back to Seashore Gardens Living Center, which has done so much to help our Hillel program this year. When Hillel decided to revive our monthly Shabbat dinners at the beginning of this year, our biggest challenge was Hillel’s lack of a designated space for having the dinners or a kitchen for preparing meals. SGLC came to our rescue, generously donating home-cooked Shabbat meals as well as a space where we could gather and eat. SGLC has also helped us out on other Jewish holidays, supplying dozens of flavors of sufganiyot and potato latkes for our Hanukkah party, and providing Jewish students with kosher-for- Passover foods during Stockton’s Relay for Life event last year, which happened to fall during Pesach.

Over winter break, our student leaders met on Skype to discuss plans for the semester. High on their list of priorities was finding a way to give back to Seashore Gardens as a way to say “thank you” for their generous food donations and assistance. Students were encouraged by a faculty advisor to take it a step further and plan an activity with Seashore Gardens residents. The students came up with the fabulous idea of holding a challah-braiding workshop with residents in March, on a day before we were already scheduled to do a monthly Shabbat meal at Seashore Gardens.

A few weeks before the challah braiding workshop, I tested out various challah recipes suggested by family, friends, and even some friends’ mothers, who shared their challah-baking wisdom on Facebook. I ultimately picked a recipe that was easy to follow and prepare.

The day before the challah-braiding workshop, we completed the first part of the challah dough prep. It was wonderful to work alongside Seashore Gardens dining staff and to meet the individuals responsible for preparing our monthly Shabbat dinners. The following day the students jumped into action, dividing up dough, coaching residents through the braiding process, and watching the residents almost become competitive in their braiding skills. That Friday evening, more students joined us for our ‘Give Back’ Shabbat meal at Seashore Gardens. Everyone was amazed by the spread served for dinner! Not only was the food delicious, but the conversation was also rich and inspiring.

At the end of the meal, students gifted residents and staff with some Hillel swag, and everyone left the meal all smiles. As residents and students were leaving the room, some of the residents encouraged the students to come back and join them for Bridge, Mahjong, and Canasta games. The students were delighted to be invited to a game day, but felt they needed to first learn the games and seriously prepare— because their competition looked pretty tough!

After spending two days at Seashore Gardens, I could see an extra spark of light in my students’ eyes; this act of chesed—of loving kindness— had really resonated with them. Hillel has done social action projects in the past, but seeing the students with the residents, enjoying simple things like conversation, laughter, and a holiday meal, inspired them to want to do more. They are now eager to find other ways to give back to the community that supports us and our mission. 

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