Braiding connections, one challah at a time
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Braiding connections, one challah at a time

Four Teaneck sisters — the Challah-Back Girls — bake with love, donate for social justice

Hannah, left, and Sara are at work in the kitchen.
Hannah, left, and Sara are at work in the kitchen.

Four Teaneck sisters are combining their love of baking challah with their passion for social justice in a project dubbed “Challah-Back Girls” www.challahbackgirls.com

Each week since mid-June, Sara, Marni, Hannah, and Eliana Loffman have been baking and selling challot. They’re charging $16 for two of them — plain, everything but the bagel, chocolate chip, or coffee crumb — and they donate more than half of the proceeds to an organization benefitting a social-justice cause.

As of July 19, they’ve baked 500 challot to fill 250 orders, hand delivered some of them to more than 50 homes, and shipped others to more than 130 cities in 27 states. They’ve donated to charities including the Okra Project, the Loveland Foundation, Everyone Home DC, Campaign Zero, and most recently, the B3 Foundation started by Pittsburgh Steeler Zach Banner.

We had lots of questions for the Challah-Back Girls, which they graciously answered as a group.

But first, a bit more about Caryn and Clark Loffman’s four daughters, all graduates of Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford.

Sara, 27, graduated from the Frisch School in Paramus and SUNY Binghamton. She works for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.

Marni, 24, went to Frisch, and then to Wesleyan University. She is finishing a year-long Avodah Justice Fellowship; that’s a Jewish program that addresses social and economic injustice in New York City, Chicago, and Kansas City.

Hannah, 22, went to Frisch and graduated from SUNY Binghamton this year. She will attend Rutgers University School of Social Work in the fall.

Eliana, 16, is a rising junior at SAR High School in Riverdale.

The Loffmans have lived in Teaneck for 17 years and belong to Congregation Beth Sholom there.

The sisters’ output includes double chocolate chip challot.

Here is the interview:

Jewish Standard: When and why did you start baking challah?

Challah-Back Girls: For as long as we can remember, we baked challah with our mom growing up. It’s her challah recipe that we use, the same one we’ve been using for over 25 years. Hannah is the one who really stuck with baking for our family — though Marni is known in our house for her famous sourdough bread, made from a 270-year-old culture that originated across the country.

JS: How and when did the Challah-Back Girls get started?

CBG: This project began when Hannah was forced home from university in March. Given her love of baking — and growing quarantine boredom — she blessed the family with delicious challot each week. Through family friends, we learned that the Bergenfield Volunteer Ambulance Corps had potluck dinner and lunch every Shabbat and so we offered to contribute to their meals with challot.

During the peak of the pandemic, we began delivering to healthcare heroes and frontline workers beyond Bergenfield. While it was the least we could do for those putting their lives on the line, we knew we could find a way to give back to the larger community and individuals in need.

JS: So all of you joined Hannah in the kitchen?

CBG: The high demand for the challot we were making for frontline workers required all-Loffman-sister-hands on deck, each contributing something unique toward the same goal. After weeks of preparing challot to give away, we started to wonder how we could contribute to both epidemics plaguing our country: covid-19 and anti-Black racism.

Simultaneously, we were receiving a lot of inquiries through our Instagram account (@WeLoffToTravel) about if our challot were for sale. We didn’t feel right selling our challot just because they tasted like heaven. We wanted to find a way to combine spreading the challah love each week while supporting the work being done right now to address discrimination, poverty, and racism.

After much thought and feedback, we decided to start selling the challot and donate more than half the proceeds we made each week to a different organization promoting social justice and supporting at-risk or disenfranchised communities.

Dough rises.

JS: How did each Loffman contribute something unique?

CBG: Sara brainstormed marketing and outreach techniques: How could we get the word out? What kinds of communities could we engage? How can we connect with our network and build new relationships? She’s also our in-house photographer.

Marni’s commitment to equity and improving the quality of life for those around her motivated us to find causes outside of our Jewish community and relevant to the momentum happening around the world.

Hannah’s kitchen magic brought the challot to life, and her undergraduate studies highlighted the importance of being active participants in movements for systemic change.

And Eliana’s thought partnership and unique Gen Z perspective allowed us to see initiatives and organizations through a new lens. She ensures everything is aesthetically up to Challah-Back Girls standards.

This initiative has been made possible with the unconditional support of our parents, especially when it came to creating our website. Our superhero dad, Clark, is a computer whiz, and our wonderful mom, Caryn, has a natural eye for detail.

JS: How do you choose the charities to give to? Most are not Jewish-related, yet you are raising money for them through a very Jewish item.

CBG: The choices of organizations for which to fundraise is inspired by our Jewish values — like baking and eating traditional Jewish bread each week — and steadfast belief that all humans are created in the image of God and thus deserve to be treated as sacred.

This means supporting causes that fight to restore agency, freedom from fear and persecution, and joy to communities that experience the regular effects of discrimination in our country. With each passing week we echo the Jewish teaching in Pirkei Avot 1:14, “If I am not for me, who will be for me? But if I am for my own self only, what am I?”

The Jewish community has a long history of standing with other minority communities to promote the needs of all. We want to honor this tradition.

JS: How does challah, for you, symbolize the role of Jewish tradition in the general American world?

CBG: The symbol of challah is powerful. After creating the dough, and ritually separating out and burning a small piece of it, one engages in the practice of braiding. In taking these different strands of dough crafted in isolation and unifying them, 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.

In this moment of social change, awakening us to how our lives are literally all connected, yet impacted uniquely by race, class, and our histories, creating the challah affirms that woven into our Judaism is a responsibility to heed our interconnectedness with others, and support their fights for justice and equity.

We envision that through community engagement and spreading the love of challah, we can impart the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world, to the widespread — and often overlooked — diverse communities that make up our society.

JS: How long do you intend to sustain this project?

CBG: Every day we are validated by people in both the Jewish and non-Jewish community who want to feel inspired to connect to other socially conscious-minded people. We will continue our mission for as long as people are inspired to be a part of it!

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The Challah-Back Girls bake their challot wearing masks and gloves. They work in a strictly kosher kitchen and use only pareve ingredients and equipment. Email info@challahbackgirls.com or go to www.challahbackgirls.com for more information.

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