Steelers’ Zach Banner Teams with Jewish Community to Fight Hate

Challah-Back-Girls

Photo courtesy of the Challah Back Girls L to T: Sara, Marni, Hannah and Eliana Loffman, the Challah Back Girls.

“Ladies, no hype, this is fire!” said Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Zach Banner the first time he tried challah, an occasion he recorded for posterity and posted to social media.

The challah to which Banner refers came courtesy of the Challah Back Girls, four sisters from Bergen County, N.J. who bake challah in their home kitchen, sell it via their web site, and donate their profit to organizations that promote social justice and support disenfranchised communities.

How did a Pittsburgh Steelers player come to partner with the Challah Back Girls? And bestow upon himself the opportunity to enjoy challah, an egg-rich leavened bread that is typically prepared for the Jewish Sabbath and other special occasions?

If you’re a football fan, you may recall that Banner was one of the few NFL players to speak out against DeSean Jackson when the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver expressed hateful, anti-Semitic sentiments earlier this month.

And when the Challah Back Girls—Sara, Marni, Hannah, and Eliana Loffman, all die-hard Steelers fans and daughters of a proud USC Alum—heard Banner come out in solidarity with the Jewish community, they immediately thought to team up with his B3 Foundation, which works to “promote and build engaged communities within which children are raised to feel empowered, valued and loved.”


Zach Banner Partners with the Challah Back Girls

“When we first heard Zach Banner’s message condemning anti-Semitism, we saw him as a perfect place to highlight the power of coalition building,” Marni Loffman told Heavy.com. “Partnering with B3 Foundation helps to strengthen our mutual allyship: our solidarity with the Black and Brown communities and Zach’s standing behind the Jewish community.”

In the meantime, Banner committed to educating himself about Jewish culture and engaging in dialogue with members of the Jewish community. As part of that, Banner participated in a panel discussion with Black and Jewish activists hosted by Bend the Arc Jewish Action Pittsburgh, which addressed the ongoing struggle against racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy. He also wrote an opinion column for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, explaining why he spoke out about DeSean Jackson’s anti-Semitic social media posts.

But getting to sample not one, but two varieties of challah (plain and coffee crumb), was a rare treat for Banner, a 335-pound lineman whose personal trainer strongly discourages him from consuming bread and sugar. Banner made an exception for the loaves he received from the Challah Back Girls, which arrived with a note that read: “#72 is now eligible … for some incredible challah,” an insider reference to the introduction Banner receives from Heinz Field’s public address announcer when he enters the game as an eligible receiver.

In fact, Banner did hear from his trainer after posting his challah-tasting video on Twitter, but apparently he cut Zach a little slack.

“It’s been a long offseason and I’ve been able to trim down a lot in terms of physique and weight,” said Banner in an email to Heavy.com. “He called me later and told me I’ve earned it, but to get back to work the next day. I definitely have a ‘challah limit,’ but I haven’t crossed it yet.”

As for the Challah Back Girls, they have been working overtime to fulfill orders that have poured in from 30 different U.S. states.

“In our gloves, Steelers masks and T-shirts, we’ve been working 16-18 hour days in order to bake and organize everything, but are absolutely loving going through this process together and making so many people feel connected to such delicious Jewish bread,” says Hannah Loffman, noting that they have already used over a hundred bags of flour and have orders scheduled for delivery well into August.

“Does anyone have an extra mixer we can borrow?” Hannah quips, before relating how the Loffman sisters have already come a long way from where they started: donating challah to local first responders who were working long hours to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, northern New Jersey being one of the early hot spots.


Challah Back Girls: Steelers Season-Ticket Holders

This isn’t to say that the Loffman sisters are all work and no play; they are really looking forward to watching Steelers football this season. Never mind that they live in Teaneck, N.J., in the heart of New York Giants country, and that their mom has worked at Hackensack University Medical Center (the “hometown hospital” of the New York Giants) for the past 10 years.

“We support the New York Giants but all four of us have been bleeding black & gold since we were born and couldn’t be prouder,” Sara Loffman told Heavy.com, noting that their mother was born and raised in Pittsburgh and that their grandparents lived there for over 50 years.

“We were basically wrapped in a baby Terrible Towel before This is Us made it cool. And we live for Steelers player Cameos, not to mention dressing head-to-toe in black and gold on Sundays and bringing our Terrible Towels to places like Panama, Israel, Hawaii, and Binghamton, N.Y.,” where Hannah and Sara both attended Binghamton University.

As Steelers season-ticket holders, they still hold out hope that they can attend home games this season, though they won’t be able to go to the team’s regular season opener, as fans will not be permitted at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey when the Steelers play the Giants on Monday Sept. 14.

“When our grandparents passed we inherited the license to their season tickets that they had for decades,” explains Hannah. “Since then we have schlepped seven hours both ways from New Jersey to Heinz Field for every home game.”

Fortuitously, the Loffman’s also have cousins in Baltimore, so they venture down to M&T Bank Stadium every year to watch the Steelers play the Ravens. (“We usually leave happy,” cracks Eliana.)

Post-pandemic the Loffman sisters hope to get to meet Banner in person at a Steelers home game. Meanwhile, they will settle for continuing their cultural exchange, with Banner a proud member of the Chamorro community who has roots in Guam.

“It’s amazing how much we can learn when we just lean into conversations and be honest about what we don’t know—and are curious about learning more,” Banner told Heavy.com. “I posted about Guam Liberation Day and they reached out about it and asked, ‘How can we get involved?’ I got to share with them what the holiday is all about and even share some of our food traditions.

“Our plan is to work together on something we could do next year for the holiday,” one which commemorates the liberation of Guam during the Second World War and is celebrated annually on July 21. “Chamorros like to celebrate with food and challah is the exact thing we need to make our holiday that much better,” Banner said.


Challah Back Girls Raise $5K For Zach Banner’s B3 Foundation

As for the immediate future, Banner is pumped at how the money the Challah Back Girls raised for B3 Foundation will help the organization meet the needs of students. Many students simply don’t have the tools they need for virtual learning, a pressing issue with the school year fast approaching and no end in sight to the pandemic.

“We are excited to share that we were able to send $5,000 to B3 Foundation,” offers Hannah, a truly remarkable sum for four sisters working out of their home kitchen on a less than two-week-long initiative.

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4 Varieties of Challah for Sale

Never mind that all of those sales came from just one product, though the Challah Back Girls do offer four varieties of challah—plain, coffee crumb, chocolate chip, and ‘Everything but the Bagel.’

Asked which has proved most popular, the sisters are appropriately diplomatic, saying, “all flavors get the equal attention they deserve … [but] coffee crumb is our family’s favorite, and one that Zach received, if that counts!”

Instead they prefer to talk about how challah—typically braided—can be seen as symbolic, a metaphor for human relationships.

“In taking these different strands of dough, crafted in isolation and unifying them, we are reminded of the powerful ways that human beings are enmeshed with each other, inevitably connected, while also maintaining our unique experiences and histories,” concludes Marni. “The Jewish community has a long history of standing with other minority communities to promote the needs of all. We want to honor this tradition.”

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