What do you get when you mix flour, vegetable oil, honey, sugar, salt, water, eggs, yeast and a whole lot of love?
The answer is challah bread.
Three University of Florida students, Nina Stein, Rachel Fiske, and Alexandra Lampner, take time each week out of their studies to bake challah bread for the people who need a little extra love and care.
The three friends started baking challah for their friends and loved ones as simple acts of kindness. But what started off as a pastime is now a weekly tradition and a nonprofit corporation. Stein, Fiske and Lampner founded Loaves of Luv as a nonprofit corporation in Gainesville, Florida.
Challah bread is a braided egg bread in Jewish cuisine. It is usually baked to be eaten on traditional occasions such as the night of Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) and major Jewish holidays.
Challah bread is full of symbolism. Challah is baked in all shapes and sizes. The most common, have three, four or six strands, symbolizing love because it looks as is if arms were intertwined. Three braids in challah bread symbolize peace, justice and truth. Sweet challah made with honey, raisins or chocolate chips are baked during the holiday season to produce joy and happiness.
For residents at local nursing homes and patients at hospitals such as the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital, challah bread takes on a whole new meaning because of Loaves of Luv.
The challah bread is baked from scratch every Friday morning at the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center kitchen and delivered to residents and patients to spread hope and love to the ones who need it most, Stein said.
The challah is delivered while still warm to radiate happiness and give others opportunity to enjoy the wonderful aroma and the sweet taste of the special Jewish bread.
“My friend’s mom was a patient at Shands and she asked me if I could bake a challah for her mom,” said Stein, a women’s studies major. “Her mom’s reaction of overwhelming joy and gratitude when she received the challah was something I’d never experienced before and knew this was something that could really make a difference.”
Over the course of a couple months, Loaves of Luv has gained a lot of traction as members of both the UF Jewish and non-Jewish communities have joined the movement. About five to 10 volunteers show up every Friday morning to help bake 20 to 30 challahs of different shapes and flavors to give the residents and patients different options.
“I love to see the smiles on people’s faces when they receive the warm challah,” said Lampner, an English major. “We are trying to take care of people in the community and a way to give back for all the things that I have been given.”
Fiske, a speech pathology major, said her most memorable moment was when a patient asked her to come back and visit her while she stayed at the hospital for surgery. The patient could not stop expressing her gratitude and that experience with the patient epitomized why they deliver challah to patients. The feeling it creates and how it connects people to one another is what makes it all worthwhile.
“Driving to the hospital or a nursing home, and delivering a challah takes such little effort, yet it means so much to others,” said Chanie Goldman, co-director at Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center. “Something so easy with such little time commitment is a wonderful way to open yourself and be part of the greater good.”
Stein, Fiske and Lampner, deliver the challah together and ask every patient how they’re feeling, what they’re there for and try to get to know everyone to show that they’re thought of and cared for. The energy and gratitude of the patients are reflective of the impact of a simple mitzvah (a good deed).
The three say their ultimate goal is to spread Loaves of Luv to cities nationwide, to show that even just delivering a baked good full of love can make a difference in someone’s life.
“Challah is a symbol of nourishment, not just physically but spiritually, as well,” Goldman said. “When we gift the challah to the patients they feel the love, vitality and strength that challah represents.”