Thank you to those who sent me warm words and stories of what you experienced at our grand ELC Jerusalem Challah Bake the week of the Shabbos Project. It was so meaningful to me to read your stories. Below are a few that I have permission to share.
If you have more feedback you can still share it with me. I would love to hear from you!
Dear Mrs. Ansh,
I just wanted to write and thank you for the wonderful evening at the Great Challah Bake. In addition to the incredible feeing of bonding with so many other Jewish ladies and girls, and doing a mitzvah I have never been able to do before with a bracha, I felt that the evening was personally healing to me.
I was there with my daughter, who had a difficult teenage-hood and is not necessarily 100% with frumkeit anymore, although she is trying her best and I’m really proud of her. Standing together, kneading our doughs together, saying our own personal tefillos, we experienced a bond which had been missing for so long.
I could not stop crying, and she couldn’t stop hugging me.
When we took the bus home, before she got off at her stop she kissed me and said, “Mommy I love you so much. I want you to know you are my main role model.”
In addition to strengthening the bond between me and my daughter, I felt that my own bond with Yiddishkeit/Hashem which had been strained during the difficulties of the last years was renewed. I am so grateful to you for providing the environment for this to take place. Many thanks…
I was at The Pavilion last Thursday evening for the Challah Bake and I would like to thank you and the whole team who prepared such a wonderful experience for us all. I always try and go to hear Rabbanit Yemimah Mizrachi whenever possible and she was the icing on the challah! Together with the Kallah!
However, I would like to thank you, Tamar, for such an inspirational evening. I make challah every so often but now I am inspired to try it every week. Your explanations on the ingredients and your guide whilst we were all making the dough were amazing.
It was indescribable to attend this event with so many other women, all there for one purpose and all making challah together. Your words of Chizuk, your professionalism, and your spirituality in what making challah meant to you were all a great lesson to me.
Not only did I enjoy the evening, I enjoyed telling other people about it, and I enjoyed the whole mitzvah of making them, kneading them, Hafrashat Challah, plaiting them, and ultimately, eating them. I really felt the mitzvah.
Tizku L’Mitzvot, Telchi Mi Choyil Ad Choyil,
This past Thursday night (Nov. 10, 2016) was one of the highlights of my entire challah demonstration career.
I was zocheh to give a challah event – far more than just a demo – in front of around 1,000 women from every walk of life here in Yerushalayim, Ir HaKodesh as part of the worldwide Shabbos Project.
A Word of Thanks
Before beginning my story, I would like to publicly thank Rabbi and Mrs. Yehoshua Wechsler of the Emek Learning Center (ELC) who stood behind this event, took upon themselves all the millions of details: people to help put it together, finding donors, and much, much more. The Wechslers put in more than 1000% to make it all come out as great as it did!
● Bar Mitzvahs
Emek Learning Center (ELC) staff, such as the Smiths, the Berzons, the Meyers, and countless others took responsibility for logistics, and preparing the venue layout and the ingredients – which is it’s own “parsha” all by itself.
The ELC provides Jewish education, enrichment and guidance to the Jerusalem Anglo community. It was a singular pleasure to work with the warm and caring Rabbis and staff at ELC!.
Surprise! It’s a Kallah
First on our agenda of the evening was the talk being given by Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi, scheduled to begin at 7:10 pm. Sometime around 6 or so, as I was standing at the entrance to the hall taking a drink and a bit of a break, an older Israeli woman walks over to me and asks (in Hebrew), “Are you the one doing the hafrashat challah tonight?”
“Yes,” I answered, wondering how she knew that.
“My daughter is a kallah, and she’s getting married in the hall adjacent to this one. Could we ask for Rabbanit Mizrachi to give her a bracha when she gets here?”
“Certainly!” I assured the mother, while mentally doing gymnastics on how we’d get this done, as our schedule for the night was beyond packed. “Come back at 7 pm exactly because the Rabbanit only has 20 minutes with us.”
Escorting the Queen with Song
Shortly before 7:00 I made sure to get to the front of the room so as to be able to catch the Rabbanit before she got up on stage. In just two seconds I briefed her on what was about to happen.
When the kallah walked into the room, as one, the whole room of around 1,000 women rose and stood up to greet her. The kallah was glowing, she was so moved. Then she got to the front where Rabbanit Mizrachi waited her.
The Rabbanit gave her a hug in front of everyone and a beautiful bracha.
Rabbanit Mizrachi also told her that on the day of her wedding she is a malka and she should now bless us all of us – which she did –
And then the room burst into song!
Women and girls went into high gear, jumping to the front of the room where the kallah stood, linking arms and dancing wedding style right there. Then we escorted the kallah down from the stage, danced with her, and continued on all the way back to her hall.
Well! Now THAT was certainly a highly different beginning to our challah event than any of US could have planned – I can guarantee that no other challah bake in the world probably had a Kallah on her wedding day at their event!
Getting Our Hands in the Dough
All that dancing and the unexpected gift of a kallah to grace our evening set the tone for the rest of the night.
We launched right into the holiness of challah.
After a brief intro about challah I explained how we would make our dough with so many participants; exactly how to measure with what we had provided in the bowls in front of each person and in what order.
We put on our aprons and gloves and got started.
Girls Aged 5, Women Aged 90, and Every Age in Between – Performing Hafrashas Challah
At this point I explained what we were about to do for the main part of the whole evening – our mitzvah of hafrashas challah.
I reviewed some of the halachos that are necessary to know before beginning, how actually to perform the mitzvah – because for many in the room, this was really their first time doing the mitzvah!
In fact, we had our oldest participant, a woman of over 90 k’ah, tell me afterwards that this was her first time doing this mitzvah too!
We had participants from aged five…
all the way to age 90+ and everything in between.
The 1,000 Woman Amen
Then I stopped for a minute and told everyone, “Before we begin, I’m going to go first. Out of this whole room filled with SO many beautiful, holy neshamot, what do I want from all of you? I want your Amen’s. I ask that when I say my bracha aloud, that every one of you please answer Amen to me – ladies, that means we’ll have approximately one thousand Amen’s from all of this!
And when it is your turn, try to do it in pairs; one makes her bracha, the other should answer Amen, and then the reverse – and then PRAY.
That is why we are all here tonight, to gather to use this tremendous “eit ratzone” to pray together. It’s so powerful – look at all the hundreds of zechusim we are meriting to have together – Thursday night which is considered Friday, ie Erev Shabbos + over 900 women together + the achdus of just being together + hafrashas challah itself + the best part of it, being in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh, just a mere few meters from the makom hamikdash itself – no other challah bake around the world outside Jerusalem can claim that – it’s just incredible!”
I closed my eyes and began…and as I finished my bracha, I heard the whole room thunder in answer, so many Amens, from so many kinds of women.
Besides that, I realized I had also heard Amens from behind me. All the Israeli sound, video and mic guys standing behind me had answered Amen too…
There’s nothing like the Jewish neshama.
The room grew hushed as so many hundreds started doing their own hafrashot simultaneously, with the many, many tefillos… and while the Shaw sisters softly played “Vezakeini” from their instruments, we covered our eyes and prayed and prayed.
We Want Kohanim!
Volunteers went throughout the room gathering together our separated pieces of dough. Those pieces that we still aren’t able to give to a Kohen in the Bais Hamikdash as we still don’t have our Mikdash.
As the Rabbanit told us – it shows Hashem that we miss Him, that we still remember His House and that we want Him back again! We can’t even use this piece of dough but we still separate it and still keep it holy because we want to show that we want Him back as well.
Bursting into Song
Before I knew it, the whole room exploded in song and dance; everyone grabbed someone, and we danced our excitement, our unity, our show of Hashem’s mitzvohs to us TOGETHER!
It was one of the highlights of the night – we kept singing, we kept dancing…
Song after song, hands over each other’s shoulders…
Hands grabbing hands, girls, women united arms linked to each other, singing at the top of their voices… “Yachad, kol yisroel Yachad!”
Once we all calmed back down again, the shaping began.
And then, good Shabbos everyone – time to take your beautiful challahs home with you and bake them, “L’kavod Shabbos Kodesh!”
I’m Still on the “High”
I came home, and everyone who was with me felt the same way – it was so hard to leave, to let it go, to break up and go back to being just me…but the feelings stayed on.
Coming home in a ‘high’ and yet…I’m still ‘up there’ – it was SUCH a beautiful evening.
Dancing at the Geulah
Can you imagine how much more powerful it will be when the Geula will really be here, here in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh and we will all get to dance together then?
We were of the only ones who got to perform this mitzvah b’rov am right here in Yerushalayim, just a few meters away from the site of the actual Bais Hamikdash! The thought is mind boggling!
A great treat for you, dear readers! An in depth look at the history of challah by Libi Astaire, published in Mishpacha Magazine.
Here’s a short excerpt I found fascinating, as the first appearance of challah in the braided shape we know today:
At some point during the 1400s, braided breads using the best available white fl our became popular in Germany, perhaps because braiding the dough helps to keep the bread fresh a bit longer. These breads, known as berchisbrod, started to make an appearance on the Shabbos table, possibly because the German word bercht ( braid) sounds very s imilar to the Hebrew word brachos (blessings). In Southern Germany, this type of challah became known as barches or berches.
A Taste of Challah is a cumulative work of many years of baking and experimenting with challah, yeast doughs, and bread, as well as practice with wide variety of techniques for braiding and shaping the dough. I most certainly did not start off knowing anything at all aside from that I wanted to make good challahs! In this book it is my aim to take this special art of making home made challahs, and demonstrate to you, the reader, to you, the irreplaceable homemaker, how simple yet satisfying and rewarding this can be. And how this one act of baking can raise the level of spirituality in your kitchen and in your family’s home well beyond what you ever thought possible.
The book also includes an easy to read guide at the end on exactly how this mitzvah is performed. No matter who reads it, no matter the level of religious observance or familiarity with Jewish matters, any Jewish woman can now perform this sacred task properly. And anyone can now make the most beautiful, as well as delicious and healthy challahs that will make any homemaker proud.
Why an Entire Book on Just Challah?
Bread is a staple food item that every person, in every culture, is familiar with. Challah is unique in that it is a bread item – yet it is also, or maybe even more so, a spiritual item.
Bread is a staple food item that every person, in every culture, is familiar with. Challah is unique in that it is a bread item – yet it is also, or maybe even more so, a spiritual item. As the book A Taste of Challah so aptly states in its front cover flap, bread nourishes the body, while Challah nourishes the soul. Baking challah properly is so imperative in religious Judaism that it is considered one of the three central commandments that are given uniquely for the Jewish woman. Although any man can do this mitzvah as well, there is a higher purpose and more special aspect to it when it is performed – properly – by the Jewish woman. It is the woman who is considered the mainstay of the home, of the heart and soul of the home; and thus the main bread of the home, challah, is given as a special merit to her alone.
Challah is given prime importance on our most sacred day of the week, the Shabbos day. It is present at every meal, and the meal takes on an higher level of dignity and beauty when the braided challah loaves were lovingly prepared by none other than the woman of the house herself. Furthermore, by performing the mitzvah of separating off the piece of dough called challah, the woman hereby elevates that plain dough into something spiritual; the more the woman prays for her family while preparing her challah loaves, the more she ‘speaks’ to G-d in prayer as she is working and lovingly kneading her dough, the more she is able to imbue this dough with something extraordinary, intangible to the naked eye, yet felt strongly by the spiritual eye we all posses.
Why did you write “A Taste of Challah?”
I’ve been asked this questions many times, especially when I do a live presentation about challah – what prompted me to want to write an entire book on challah. The answer is kind of simple:
I didn’t know how to make challah and so I went looking for a book on the topic, preferably with pictures or demonstrations on how to braid. But I came up empty-handed. There seemed to be nothing out there on the topic, or at least, nothing that was helpful to me. I found one old thin book but it was totally not what I needed. And I still really, really wanted to make better challahs than I knew how to at that time. It became a sort of overriding dream of mine, to learn how to shape and make beautiful challahs, to really learn the mitzvah of challah thoroughly and to find out as many shapes as possible. And then one day I said to myself, Well, if you really want a book on challah, why don’t you just make one yourself? And so, with lots of help from Hashem and other people, I did…
Why are so many scared away from baking challah? What advice do you have for them?
I think a lot of people just assume that making your own challahs is a project, a burden, something that will take too long and be too hard to do. Many, many women are also not aware of the tremendous reward they get for this mitzvah, as it is one of the three main mitzvohs given specifically to women! Every single mitzvah is very important but the mitzvah of challah is especially so since it was designated for women. Men can do the mitzvah (as in the case of bakeries) too, but it was really set aside for women to do. And the opportunities for praying while doing it are immense.
Challah is not so hard; and in fact, it can be quite enjoyable. I wrote the book splitting it up into steps with lots of tips there to help even the busiest, least kitchen-oriented person. You can break the process up into parts if it’s easier for you that way, you can make a large amount at once on a day that you plan to be home for a few hours and then freeze the challahs – there are lots of ideas on how to still do this mitzvah even if you are short on time or don’t usually bake. It is something that really can become very meaningful to everyone.
By the way, the mitzvah of challah is NOT the shaping and the baking – that is the part of beautifying the mitzvah. The actual mitzvah is when you make a dough using quantities of flour large enough to need the biblical ‘separating of challah’ the piece we separate off with a blessing and then either burn or double wrap it and throw it away. When we had the Bais Hamikdash, that piece went to the Kohen. Today we don’t have that possibility but if enough women everywhere would do the mitzvah properly and pray the first tefillah we all say after taking challah with a bracha, it will bring that possibility much closer, much faster!
Challah seems to touch the soul of so many…why do you think that is?
Because its essence is holy; since it is a mitzvah from our Torah, it is NOT just another baking session.
Do you bake challah each week?
I most certainly try… Most importantly of all, besides praying while you create the challahs, praying when you do the mitzvah and praying that it comes out good (Yes! I do that too!) is to just enjoy the process. It may take a bit longer than a cake, but it is so worth it…
Is Challah baking today different from 100 years ago? How?
Can’t say that I’m exactly old enough to know the differences myself…but I’m sure it involved different steps since they did not have electric ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and the plethora of ready made flour and materials that we have today. My grandmother, may she live and be well, tells me about her mother making challah and how she would get up before sunrise on Fridays in order to have it done on time.