Unlocking the power of challah baking

Challah baking is spiritual yet mundane, an exact science but a seat-of your- skirts endeavor, individual yet collective.

Baking (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
There’s something that brings Jewish women together like nothing else: challah baking.
Just ask Rebbetzin Rochie Pinson who has hosted challah bakes for thousands of women at a time, and thousands of women spanning decades. From South Africa to Brazil to Canada and New York, women come from all over to mix and stir, knead and pound and pour their love and care into the entire process. Why?
What is it about baking challah that brings together women from all backgrounds to unite in this holy endeavor? Is it just about the delicious, perfected triple-braided bread? Or the recipe for a scrumptious pumpkin challah with a cinnamon honey spread?
In the book The Rising Life, Rochie, as the rebbetzin is fondly known, takes you through the life lessons gleaned baking challah as a Jewish woman, wife, mother and individual. She writes, “I began to feel the challah dough echoing the sounds (and, at times, cacophony) of my life. The act of making the challah...became meditative, meaningful, therapeutic and soul-refreshing.”
Whether it’s a rainbow-colored challah for kids, a jelly-infused challah roll for Hanukka or an elaborately decorated henna challah for a Sephardic wedding, Rochie can do it all. She’s on a roll, you might just say, and is coming out with her second book this fall.
Breaking bread together has long been the family staple. On Friday nights, women may light shabbat candles. The men come home from shul. And everyone is greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread. Yet, this mitzvah runs deep. Very deep. As I voraciously read through The Rising Life, I was invited to be both unique and imperfect. As women, we have tremendous pressures weighing on us to be perfect aesthetically, socially and personally. But, just like baking challah is an imperfect science, even with the best of recipes, so too are our lives and our selves.
Freedom and liberation lie in flour, sugar, yeast, salt, eggs and water. Who knew? Even a “slightly lopsided challah cooling on the counter” or “dried bits of flour that didn’t seem to want to become part of the whole” could soon be seamlessly joined and enjoyed as an offering of love to friends, family and one’s community. There’s kindness, discipline, imperfection and letting life get blissfully messy. We can allow ourselves to be perfectly imperfect, just like the best of challahs. And still, have our portion offered to God and our families.
The greatest gift is a portion of thyself, said Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And, indeed, Numbers 15:20 reads: “The first of your dough, challah, you shall offer as a gift....” Rochie expounds, “When we give of ourselves in a way that is true to who we are, we receive much more than we give.... Just like flames, we give light to others and become brighter in the process. This is challah.”
In a culture that provides accolades for the go-getters and takers of the world we learn to unlock the greatness in giving of ourselves to others. We tap into an authentic self that is a contributor yet not diminished. We are shown the path to living with an expansive consciousness toward our family, friends and community.
Challah baking is spiritual yet mundane, an exact science but a seat-of your- skirts endeavor, individual yet collective.
How lucky we are to have been blessed with this mitzvah. Each week, we are reminded of our soul, taken deeper into this world and freed to be as curious and suprising as each weekly batch of six pounds of challah dough.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the author is a thirsty soul looking to help create and sustain spirituality, mindfulness and positivity within community. She invites you to come along. For future articles and features email her at alyssarachelgross@ yahoo.com or follow her on Instagram at Alyssagee00.