November 20, 2019

Alisa Malki and Caryn Roth: Changing Lives One Challah at a Time

It was 2006. Alisa Malki (at left in photo) was hanging out in Caryn Roth’s UCLA dorm room when she told her friend about a nonprofit organization called Challah for Hunger she’d heard about on National Public Radio.

Excited, Roth (at right in photo) said she knew the program through a friend who was involved with it at Claremont College.

That was that. The girls, both now 21 and seniors at UCLA, made the decision to bring the program to their school.

Having gotten the approval through the university bureaucracy, since 2007 they’ve spent virtually every Thursday of the academic year working with a large group of volunteers in the kitchen at Hillel baking an assortment of flavored challahs. On Friday mornings, they sell the challahs on campus — and they always sell out.

“It combines two things I love,” Roth said. “Baking and helping people.”

Challah for Hunger has 28 chapters at colleges all over the country. Each one donates its proceeds to a different cause.

Malki and Roth’s chapter donates 100 percent of its proceeds to Jewish World Watch’s Solar Cooker Project, which provides solar cookers to refugee camps in Chad so that women don’t need to venture out to gather wood for fires, risking rape and other violent attacks.

“It’s a tangible way of seeing a real impact,” Malki said of the choice to raise funds for solar cookers.

When she’s not baking challahs, Malki is majoring in international development, hoping eventually to combine a medical degree with a master’s in public health. 

Roth, meanwhile, is majoring in computational systems biology, which combines biology, engineering and math.

Growing up in Redlands, Malki was one of three Jewish students at her high school. UCLA became her first opportunity to become involved with a larger Jewish community.

Roth, on the other hand, was born and raised in an Israeli family in Berkeley, where there is a large Jewish population.

Both will graduate in June and already are planning to ensure that the program will continue when they’re gone. They have installed new leaders and an executive board.

“They know what it takes to keep students involved,” said Rachel Cooper, who Malki and Roth made co-president of the chapter last year. “They inspire me.”

Recently, Malki and Roth traveled to Washington, D.C., to represent Jewish World Watch and spread awareness about what they do.

Asked whether they consider themselves mensches, they insist that the attention not be put on them. “It’s not about two people,” Malki said. “It’s about the community created from it.”

“The two of us alone could not make or buy all those challahs,” Roth said.

“We could try to eat them all,” joked Malki.

“We do eat a lot,” Roth agreed.

You can be a mensch, too! Join the cause.