Simone Beilin (left) and Hannah Caplan were among organizers of the Berkeley Hillel bake sale, Oct. 27, 2023 (Photo/Sue Fishkoff)
Simone Beilin (left) and Hannah Caplan were among organizers of the Berkeley Hillel bake sale, Oct. 27, 2023 (Photo/Sue Fishkoff)

Berkeley Hillel bake sale raises funds for kibbutz on Gaza border

It can be frustrating for diaspora Jews to watch the current crisis in Israel. Many are giving money or reaching out to family and friends there to offer emotional support. But a group of Hillel students at UC Berkeley decided to do more. 

“Many of the students were feeling helpless,” said Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, Berkeley Hillel’s executive director. A few of them approached Jewish Agency Israel Fellow Noga Vilder, who arrived on campus in August to work with Hillel. 

“They told her: We want to do something, not just yell,” he said.

So they did. They baked. Cupcakes, brownies, carrot cake, strawberry crumble, cookies, muffins and more. On Friday, the students hosted a bake sale that raised more than $2,000 for Kibbutz Kissufim, one of the communities along the Gaza border infiltrated by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. 

Eight kibbutz members and four Thai workers were murdered during the massacre that took the lives of more than 1,400 people in southern Israel. Another four Kissufim members were among the now-estimated 239 hostages. Many of Kissufim’s buildings were destroyed. 

The money raised by the bake sale will help the kibbutz rebuild its homes, said Vilder.

They chose Kissufim for a specific and personal reason. The kibbutz hosted one of their fellow Hillel students while he was serving in the Israel Defense Forces as a “lone soldier,” meaning he had no immediate relatives in Israel. 

Amnon Marmor of Foster City lived with a family on Kibbutz Kissufim from 2016 to 2019 while he served in an IDF combat unit. Now 26, he is at UC Berkeley working on his undergraduate degree, majoring in molecular and cellular biology and cognitive science.

(From left) Alan Senoff, Amnon Marmor and Noga Vilder at the Berkeley Hillel bake sale, Oct. 28, 2023. (Photo/Sue Fishkoff)
(From left) Alan Senoff, Amnon Marmor and Noga Vilder at the Berkeley Hillel bake sale, Oct. 27, 2023. (Photo/Sue Fishkoff)

His 23-year-old sister, Tal, was also hosted by the kibbutz while she served in an education unit in the IDF from 2019 to 2021. She is now a student at a Bay Area community college. 

“It’s very heartening to see everyone come together to help my kibbutz,” Marmor told J. He was coming out of the kitchen holding a tray of hot food but stopped to talk. “It’s the least we can do. The kibbutz gave so much to me and my sister.”

Alan Senoff, 21 and a senior at Cal, was one of the organizers of the fundraiser. He spoke to J. from his post behind the table of goodies inside the Hillel building on Bancroft Avenue.

“I wanted to put this together because I feel kind of helpless being over here,” he said. “I wanted to do something. What better way than through eating?”

Senoff spent this past summer on a program in Israel and was particularly struck by how Israelis constantly get together in cafes, drinking coffee and talking. Casting about for ways to help last week, he thought they could bring some of that spirit to Berkeley.

“Food brings happiness to everyone,” he said. “We could all use some joy at this time.”

Senior Hannah Caplan, 23, was another organizer. She said the core team at Hillel sent out emails to their entire community and recruited 15 people to bake. One student made bead bracelets instead of baking and donated them to the fundraising effort. Nothing carried a price tag. The signs said: “Pay what you can.” 

As the bake sale wound down just before 1 p.m., the Hillel students began packing bags with flyers bearing photos of the hostages, along with banners reading “Bring Them Home.” They were getting ready to walk down the block to Sproul Plaza to join a solidarity rally for the hostages organized by several Jewish groups on campus. 

How did it feel going from a bake sale to a protest? Hannah Caplan considered the question, knitting her brow before answering. 

“I think people are excited about this, in a different way. A positive way. A way to raise money for the kibbutz,” she said, waving her hand at the cookies and cakes.

“The rally is a different thing. It’s tough, tough having to hold both those spaces. But it’s necessary. There are different ways for people to show their support.”

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor emerita of J. She can be reached at [email protected].