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Risin' to the Occasion

Risin' to the Occasion

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Be gracious, gravity. You can’t always have your way. Granted, your natural tendency to tug objects toward the center of the earth is no less G‑d given than my secret weapon: a fungus that feeds on sugar. Alcohol and Carbon dioxide notwithstanding, I’ve got something over you. When things look down and faces are long, this’ll turn you upside down on your heaving head, that falling frown suddenly reversed into an uplifted smile. Not that you would mind - temporarily - I expect.

It is time to rise,
Rise above the mountains of mundane.
Rise to and for the occasion,
The occasion of baking challah for Shabbat.

It never fails to uplift me, this magical time of creating, shaping and baking the doughMy baking equipment stands at attention. Alongside, sit seven remarkable partners: white and whole wheat organic flour, eggs, honey, warm water, yeast, and oil. As I am busy with a holy mitzvah (commandment), I will not make phone calls. The act of separting the dough from the challah is one of the three foundational commandments specific to women. If I do happen to be called at this time, I will let the surprised party at the other end know that I am baking challah and do not wish to chatter. Often my request is met with outright laughter. “You’re not serious right?” Of course I am. I consider the sacred act of baking challah just that, and will unabashedly let you know.

Just a little secret between you and me. I’ve got a challah roster. There are two families in particular with whom I share my challah almost every week. At different points in time, various individuals have enjoyed my continuously evolving recipes. There was Mike, a tiny Europian zaide with sad eyes. Helena, a whimsical kindred spirit, and Rose, feisty Rose who insisted that she, who could make potato knishes from scratch, did not need my bread.

Have you ever smelled baking cinnamon? It’s hard to be less than euphoric in the company of an oven baking challahs, dusted with cinnamon and sugar. True, some of my challah eaters prefer poppy or sesame seeds and they are certainly not ignored. Occasionally a ‘heated’ debate will ensue regarding the perfect topping. While my children prefer cinnamon and sugar, my husband and two particular friends opt for the poppy seeds. No matter, there is enough challah and topping for all.

Some people are challah-phobic. To them I say, jump right in! The dough is fine.Yeast scares some individuals. Yet it is the best part of it all. Notice how, under the right circumstances those tiny, sandy grains blossom into the most beautiful bubbling mixture perfect for bread. A lesson unto itself.

It never fails to uplift me, this magical time of creating, shaping and baking the dough. As I take a small portion and set it aside, fulfilling the commandment, I feel blessed that I have this oportunity to give this small offering to my Creator, and it reiterates to me that I am not just baking amazing bread, but I am doing something holy, something that links me to all women of the past, present and future.

Like anything precious, it becomes even more valuable when shared. My dear friend Edith treats my challah like an esteemed, albeit mercurial, family member. Often, I will receive a detailed follow up telephone message in which Edith questions, wonders, exclaims “it was especially sweet (or crunchy or fluffy or dense) this week!” I cherish Edith’s appreciation of my challah. She often tells me that she can taste the energy and love I pour into my baking. Indeed, pound for pound of flour there’s a whole lot of love and energy that I do pour into my challah.

It is Friday afternoon as I write this. The other-wordly fragrance of challah still hovers in the air from my morning baking. I’m off to bake another batch now.

All present, please rise.

Chana holds a master’s degree in special education, and has been in the field of education for twenty-five years. Her cherished roles as Jewish woman, mother and Learning Strategies instructor provide inspiration and material for writing at every turn.‎
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Dina November 17, 2015

Loved this article! What delicious prose. I hope you'll write more, this gave such a wonderful flavor to my Challah baking plans! Reply

Ann San Diego, CA via chabadpb.org March 1, 2011

Challah I have never considered myself to be an especially spiritual person. However, while kneading challah or other bread dough I feel a spiritual connection with women throughout all time and all cultures. Reply

Esther R. brooklyn, NY October 30, 2008

any good recipes? I enjoyed this article, and your other articles too. Do you have any good whole wheat challah recipes you can share with us? Reply

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