Traditional food meets the modern food movement.

By Ellina Chulpaeff

Harmonious voices resonate through the room, creating an atmosphere of cheer and delight. The sweet aroma of warm pumpkin bread and gooey frosting fills the air. Hot plates and slow-cookers are constantly brought out, in an attempt to feed the hungry mob loosely separated into three lines around the corners of the room. Although at first glance, this may seem like a special gathering for the holiday festivities, it is just another Friday night at Hillel.

The Berkeley Hillel, located just across the UC Berkeley campus on Bancroft between Piedmont and College, strives to serve the local Jewish community. In an attempt to foster Jewish education and create a strong Jewish social atmosphere, Hillel runs several programs catering to the student population.

Weekly events consist of Wednesday night barbeques, Thursday night First Year Students at Hillel dinners, and Friday night Shabbat dinner and service. The barbeques, so popular that freshmen are often warned to “eat before you go or arrive early,” are frequented by not only Jewish students but also their friends from other faiths. Thursday night freshmen dinners are much more intimate and intended to connect the new students to Jewish life at Berkeley and provide these students with an opportunity to socialize. Despite these other events, Friday night Shabbat dinners remain the most popular and allow students to spend traditional Shabbat dinners with friends. Each of these dinners has a volunteer staff that works for hours before each event cooking for the night.

Freshman Hayley Golub attends Hillel at least twice a week on Wednesday and Friday nights. Because she keeps kosher, Hillel is one of the only places at Berkeley where she can eat kosher meat. Attending Hillel dinners have also made her aware about other social justice events relating to Judaism at Berkeley.

“Because I went to a Jewish school before, I wanted to embrace the different aspects of the Jewish community at Berkeley. Our culture is very food-centered, and the barbeques and Shabbat dinners create a sense of community around this aspect of Judaism,” she said.

Golub is now a member of the Cal chapter of Challah for Hunger, a group recently brought to Berkeley that bakes and sells challah bread. The proceeds from the challah sales go towards raising money and awareness for hunger and disaster-relief. Originally a part of Ben Brint’s Hillel Career Entrepreneur Initiative, the group aims to bring non-Jews and Jews together for local social justices, says Hillel Social Justice Intern Ilana Newman.

During the spring, Hillel will also be offering an Alternative Spring Break Trip to Pie Ranch farm where students will live and work for a week. The immersion trip will allow nine Cal students and nine UCSB students to learn a wide range of skills in sustainable and organic agriculture. A Jewish prospective will also be included as students will have an opportunity to discuss Jewish agriculture laws, keeping kosher, and global food security. The goal of this trip is to give students an opportunity to learn about farming ethics and kosher issues, says Newman.

Another project Hillel is focusing on is Eliya Lavine’s sustainability initiative, the Eden Project. The purpose of the Eden Project is to cultivate an herb garden on Hillel’s balcony. These herbs will then be used in weekly dinners.

Although the Eden Project and Challah for Hunger are Hillel’s main focus initiatives at the time, a greater interest in food sustainability may also pave the way for Hillel to become a CSA drop-off point. CSA boxes, consisting of fresh vegetables and produce selected by farmers, are usually delivered to set locations for subscribers. Hillel becoming a CSA drop-off point would allow non-Jewish and Jewish students alike to have greater access to sustainable agriculture and provide business for local farmers. An alternative to this would be for Hillel to create its own box of produce to distribute to students. This box would probably consist of excess produce attained from Monterey Market, says Newman, and will be similar to the Local produce stand found on Sproul Plaza.

Currently, Hillel, the Cal Cooking Club, and Berkeley Student Collective are in talks of creating partnerships. As of today, they are publicizing each other’s events but hope to coordinate joint events with each other in the future.

Hillel is always looking for new initiatives and ideas from the community. The food forums held at Hillel give students an opportunity to voice their opinions and decide on new projects to take on. Typically, new initiatives are presented at these forums and participants are given sign-up sheets to get involved. Additionally, feedback is received and students with ideas are encouraged to submit them at these forums. To participate, students can check Hillel’s website calendar, with a link found below.

Interested in becoming a part of Hillel’s food-centered community? Here are the ways you can participate:

  • Come to Wednesday Night B.B.Q at 6 p.m. at Hillel; all are welcome
  • Come to Thursday Night FYSH Dinner at 6 p.m. at Hillel; freshman-only
  • Come to Friday Night Shabbat Dinner at 7:30 p.m. at Hillel; all are welcome
  • Come to the Hillel Food Forums; Schedule can be found here
  • Apply for the Alternative Spring Break Trip to Pie Ranch

Ellina Chulpaeff is a freshman at UC Berkeley majoring in Political Science. She is involved in the Cal Jewish community and is a member of Jewish Greek Council and Challah for Hunger.

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