Taking on Cancer, One Slice at a Time

Nearly 500 Students Participate in Third Annual Cake Wars, Presented by Fairway Market, to Raise Money for Breast Cancer Awareness

Pink boxing gloves in a yellow-cake rink. A frosted boat sailing through an ocean of sprinkles. Cut-out cake footprints on a cookie-crumb beach.

12501356294_be5dd8051f_bThese were just a few of the more than 40 cakes in radically different shapes, sizes and colors that filled Room 501 in Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall on February 12 at the end of its third Annual Cake Wars, sponsored by Fairway Market. The cake-decorating competition celebrates National Sharsheret Pink Day Around the World, an event held on high school and college campuses worldwide to promote breast cancer awareness. Each cake was decorated by a team of students, many wearing pink bandanas, facepaint or clothes.

Now organized through Sharsheret, a national nonprofit organization that seeks to provide a community of support to women diagnosed with breast cancer, Sharsheret Pink Day Around the World was originally conceived of as a way to spread awareness of the group by then-YU student Tzvi Solomon ’13SB three years ago. The Wilf and Beren Sharsheret student clubs were brainstorming ways to support the Sharsheret Pink Day campaign when they decided an “Ace of Cakes” event, modeled off the popular Food Network show, would be a fun way to raise money and student involvement in the cause. The first Cake Wars was a hit—and has only grown in numbers since then. Close to 500 students turned out to this year’s event.

“It’s a fun and memorable way to teach students about Sharsheret and the risks of breast cancer while empowering them to make a difference,” said David Bodner ’14YC, president of the Wilf Campus Sharsheret Club, who has served as one of Cake Wars’ chief organizers since its inception.

Beren Campus Sharsheret Club President Caroline Guttman ’14S, who wore a sign that read “In Honor of Mom” and was also an organizer of the original Cake Wars, agreed. “When we look for an organization to support, we look for one that speaks to us, one that we can become passionate about that is deeply rooted in the broader values of our Jewish community,” she said. “By all of us being here tonight, we are showing our unshakable support for Sharsheret as an organization as well as the women battling breast cancer. This event signifies what Sharsheret and our broader Jewish community is all about—being there for each other, understanding our responsibilities toward one another, and realizing how as Jews we are all tied together and have the ability to lift each other’s spirits up.”

The evening began with a talk by Sharsheret representative Rachel Fliesher, who shared her experiences as a breast cancer survivor and how Sharsheret had helped her through them. “Coming to Sharsheret was like coming home,” she said, explaining how the organization had connected her with another Orthodox breast cancer survivor who could guide her through the chemotherapy and radiation processes with unique insight and empathy. “It’s the Jewish way—it’s what we do. In Psalms, it says ‘The world will be built on acts of kindness.’ Those are our acts of kindness.”

Forty student teams with names like “For Goodness Cake” and “The Pink Panthers” then got to work spackling frosting, sprinkling toppings and carving shapes inspired by the theme of the night, “Sharsheret: Linking Lives,” as dozens of fellow students looked on and cheered for their favorite teams. Toppings were donated by 16 Handles, Cedar Market and Strauss Bakery.

A student poses with judge Mauro Castano of TLC’s Cake Boss.

“Ours is inspired by the Winter Olympics,” said Shoshana Halpern, of Cake It or Break It. “It’s going to incorporate the figure-skating and the breast cancer ribbon.” Teammate Shai Berman explained the thinking behind it: “The same courage you need to compete in the Olympics, that’s the courage you need to fight breast cancer.”

Susie Senders, a member of the “Masters of Cake” team, painstakingly replicated a Jenga board to illustrate how all people are linked. “We love Sharsheret and think this is a great way to come together and be a part of something so much bigger and so beautiful,” she said. “I have friends and family who’ve gone through cancer and this is a way to show support for them.”

Samara Kandelshein, a junior, just came to watch. “I wanted to see it because it’s such a meaningful event,” she said. “I have some friends who have lost their parents to cancer—tonight is about fun, but it’s so much more than that, as well. I’m also excited to see how the cakes turn out.”

Cakes were judged on creativity, incorporation of the evening’s theme, cleanliness and overall quality. This year’s competitors faced tougher critics than ever before, however: the all-star judges’ panel included Gabrielle Peneux, a cake decorator from 16 Handles; Elan Kornblum, publisher and president of Great Kosher Restaurants Magazine; Shifra Klein, editor of Joy of Kosher Magazine; Randi Glickberg, vice president of Fairway Market; Rachel Fliesher, a representative of Sharsheret; and, last but certainly not least, Mauro Castano, pastry chef and right-hand man to chef Buddy Valastro on TLC’s hit show, “Cake Boss.”

12501071493_d9ff947254_b“I am thrilled to be a part of Yeshiva University’s PINK Day Cake Wars competition,” said Castano. “I’m glad my baking expertise and participation in this year’s event can benefit Sharsheret, a wonderful organization, and further raise awareness of breast cancer and help those battling it.”

At the end of the evening, a cake decorated by the Frosted Five and shaped like a double-scoop ice cream cone draped in the breast cancer ribbon was awarded first place. “Let’s Cream Cancer,” the cake read. The team’s prize? A free cake-decorating class in Cake Boss’s famous Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ.