On Thursday, November 14, over 100 women and children gathered at the Young Israel of New Rochelle (YINR), joining thousands worldwide participating in the Shabbat Project’s annual Great Challah Bake. At each workstation, bakers were presented with a new red YINR apron, pre-measured ingredients and utensils to make challah.
Amy Tarlowe, YINR Women’s League co-president, opened the event: “What an amazing experience to be able to come together with the YINR community and, at the same time, with women throughout the world participating in the same mitzvah.”
YINR Rebbetzin Abby Fink stated, “I can’t help but comment what a great shul we are! We all look fantastic with our new aprons for baking challah together. I always believe an event like this should begin with a perek of Tehillim, because we are grateful for the things which we have and the bounty that is ours. With all the attacks and sirens which are going on in Eretz Yisrael these past few days, it is on our minds and it is in our tefilot for all those who need a refuah sheleima. Fink also acknowledged Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of The Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa and the founder of this project. It was his hope and his dream that, across the globe, all communities participate together in make challah.
Rebbetzin Yael Axelrod led the challah bake by demonstrating her own challah recipe and techniques. She explained how to proof the yeast, how the hot water should be added before the eggs and how the flour should be added very slowly to ensure the dough is not sticky. Axelrod also advised the group that the dough should rise for two hours and should bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Axelrod pointed out, “Depending on how many challahs are in the oven, it may take longer or shorter, you have to keep watching it.” One useful tip Axelrod revealed was how to know when it is ready. “Just tap on the bottom; if it sounds hollow inside, the challah is done.”
“I am so pleased that YINR hosts the Great Challah Bake each year,” expressed YINR baker Miriam Bodek. “This event is an opportunity to bond with friends and neighbors in New Rochelle, participate in the mitzvah of taking challah, and be part of something even bigger, an evening that unites Jews across the globe.” Bodek added, “I bake challah every few weeks in large batches, sufficient to hold us for a while. The aroma of baking challah fills the house with a wonderful scent that conveys that Shabbat or chag is coming. Kneading the dough is also a great way to unwind after work.”
Laurie Kalman attended the event with her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter. “We’ve been going together to the Challah Bake for four years. It brings back memories of me baking challah with my grandmother. I loved watching the girls I knew as kids making challahs as adults and mothers.”
Nataly Neuwirth was planning to attend the YINR event alone but then Emmanuel, her fourth-grade son, expressed interest in joining her. “I was also secretly happy to see him realize that good, delicious challah on the Shabbat table does require time and effort.” Neuwirth added, “I have been to a few Challah Bake events and it is fascinating to see how many recipes and tricks for a good challah are out there.”
Lauren Bochner, one of the YINR event organizers, said that the committee hoped that participants would walk away with great challah and a good feeling of community. Bochner revealed her own secret for great challah, “I like to add extra yeast and let the dough rise for a long time.”
Once the dough was prepared, the group had the opportunity to mingle and eat sushi. Organizers played a video message from Chief Rabbi Goldstein. “This is a historic Shabbat. Through the Shabbat Project, Jewish communities in more than 1,500 cities around the world are preparing to welcome in this Shabbat in unprecedented numbers. Preparing challah is a holy rite, suffused with depth and meaning, which has been performed by Jewish women for generations and provides the best possible start to the full Shabbat experience.”
By Judy Berger