Students Raise Dough and Awareness for Breast Cancer at Yeshiva University Cake Wars
On February 29, more than 300 students filled Furst Hall’s Room 501 on the Wilf Campus for Cake Wars, a cake decorating competition that raised funds and awareness for breast cancer. Thirty teams comprising 150 participants went head-to-head to impress a team of judges that included Joey Bodner of Main Event Caterers; L’via Weisinger, a Stern College for Women graduate and owner of Her Royal Cakeness; David Himber, dean of students; Tami Adelson of Student Life; Shera Dubitsky of Sharsheret; Tzvi Goldstein of Strauss Bakery and Zechariah Mehler, a food critic and contributor to The Jewish Star newspaper of Long Island.
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In all, more than $2,400 was raised for Sharsheret, a national not-for-profit organization supporting Jewish women and their families who are facing breast cancer. Sponsors included Chiffon Bakery, Strauss Bakery and Main Event Caterers, as well as student organizations TAC, YSU, SYMS and SCWSC.
“Yeshiva University is a shining example of an institution that fosters its students’ creativity and assists in implementing their ideas,” said Solomon. “Given the strong foundation YU has in the Jewish community I knew it would be the perfect place to hold such an incredible event for Sharsheret.”
Mehler, a 2004 graduate of Yeshiva University, shared his thoughts on Cake Wars:
There are a number of words in various foreign languages that describe food as abstract concepts. Words like “shemomedjamo,” which is Georgian and expresses when someone eats beyond the point of hunger simply because they enjoy the taste. Or “pelinti,” a word in Buli, spoken in Ghana, which describes the reaction of someone biting down on food that is too hot to eat. There are dozens of examples of these sorts of words in as many languages—words that describe the emotion of eating, the joy of cooking or the beauty of food presentation—but no matter how hard I looked I could not find a word that describes the concept of using food to do something virtuous.
What makes the lack of such a word unfortunate is that last week I witnessed an event that truly utilized food for an honorable cause. I was at an event hosted by Yeshiva University and run by several of its students called Cake Wars. Cake Wars was a cake decorating competition set up by YU students David Bodner, Tzvi Solomon and Faygel Beren, to help raise breast cancer awareness and to benefit the breast cancer support group Sharsheret on what the organization calls Pink Day. For Cake Wars, 30 teams consisting of 150 student participants had one hour to decorate a cake with a specific theme that focused on raising awareness.
In addition to the 150-odd participants, an additional 150 or so students came to root for their favorite team, watch the action or simply to support the cause. Regardless of why they were there, during the decorating the room was a cacophonous sea of frenetic, pink-clad action. Let’s face it; an hour is not a lot of time to figure out how to decorate a cake when you have never decorated a cake before. However, despite their lack of experience, the students really threw themselves into the competition. They sawed at their cakes with plastic knives to create intricate shapes. They spackled greasy frosting down as mortar to construct three-dimensional shapes and in general made a great mess of things in a truly endearing way.
Some teams had clearly thought up a serious plan. The winning team, for example, created a three-dimensional Miss Pacman sporting a pink bow on a cake decorated to look like a maze in the game. Another team used frosting to paint an image of a popular internet meme in what I must admit was stunning detail. There were other impressive showings, like the miniature hedge maze or the giant pink ribbon one team was able to carve their cake into. Other teams…well they gave it their best shot. Mostly students focused on variations of a concept described to me by one contestant as “beating breast cancer is like climbing a mountain, so our cake represents climbing that mountain.” The young man who said this to me was covered from head to toe in white frosting and sprinkles. His cake was a beautiful mess of a lopsided mound intermittently dotted with various confections. This guy knew that his cake was not going to win but it was clear that he didn’t care. He’d had a blast with his friends decorating it and he had done it to benefit a good cause.
When the dust settled and the noise died down I looked around at the carnage in the room. Cake parts, frosting, cookies and sweets were everywhere. But all around were happy students, all of whom contributed to the event and used food as their medium to do something good. So here I am, days later, looking through foreign languages dictionaries to try and find a word, in any language, that adequately describes how these young adults used food to do something truly decent.
Zechariah Mehler ’04YC is a widely published food writer and marketing expert. Follow him on Twitter @thekoshercritic.