Braiding challah, uniting the community

Braiding challah, uniting the community

Challah-bake expected to draw 1,000 participants

Some challah variations
Some challah variations

Last year, talking to the Jewish Standard about community participation in the October 2014 challah-bake at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, project co-chair Esther Friedman of Teaneck called it “unbelievable.”

Then, about 300 women each received three strands of challah dough to bring home and bake.

But while calling the event both inspirational and educational, and celebrating the fact that it “introduced Shabbos to people,” Ms. Friedman bemoaned the fact that there was no official publicity beforehand, since “the local community got on board late.”

That will not happen this year.

The 2015 challah-bake — part of Bergen County’s participation in the worldwide Shabbos Project — already has garnered enough sponsors, supporters, volunteers, and would-be bakers to tantalize organizers with a possible turnout of 1,000 women.

The idea of participating in the Shabbos Project, which itself was built on a Jewish unity initiative launched in South Africa two years ago by the country’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, was first broached by Daniel Rothner of Teaneck, founding director of the youth outreach program Areyvut.

After Mr. Rothner adopted the idea for Bergen County last year, a small committee was formed to create programming, with various committee members in charge of different projects. Ms. Friedman was assigned challah-baking. That was not surprising — she hosts challah-baking gatherings in her home every Thursday.

That, too, comes with a story. Members of Ms. Friedman’s baking group are mainly alumnae of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, which brings women with limited Jewish educational backgrounds to Israel each year. Past participants have been meeting at Ms. Friedman’s home for five years. Indeed, Ms. Friedman said, more than 20 JWRP alumnae came to her home before Rosh Hashanah, learning from Debbie Rosalimsky of Teaneck — who proudly says that she is “passionate” about challah-baking — how to braid round challahs for the holiday.

Through this year’s challah-bake — to be held October 22 at the Rockleigh Country Club — Ms. Friedman hopes to reach many more women. To that end, local organizers have reached out to other groups for assistance in funding, organizing, and helping to galvanize participation.

Last year, Mali Baer, Debbie Rosalimsky, Amy Greenberg, and Cindy Dombrinsky baked together.
Last year, Mali Baer, Debbie Rosalimsky, Amy Greenberg, and Cindy Dombrinsky baked together.

Organizations that have signed on so far include the Women’s International Zionist Organization, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, the Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Women’s Philanthropy Group, Sharsheret, Hadassah of Northern New Jersey, the Bergen County division of the National Council of Jewish Women, the Israeli American Council, Lubavitch on the Palisades, the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, the Rockleigh Country Club, the Shabbos Project, BBYO, and NCSY.

Tofutti is an event sponsor, Amazing Savings is lending its support, and Main Event is donating the food, Ms. Friedman said.

“Additionally, Yavneh Academy, Yeshivat Noam, and the Frisch School have all expressed interest in bringing their teens or middle school girls,” she added, and, the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and local Chabad schools also have gotten in touch with the organizers.

“We are seeking sponsors to help defray the cost for these schools and youth organizations,” Ms. Friedman said, noting that the Rockleigh County Club will invite members from the Jewish Home and their family members “to try to create a multi-generational event.”

Ms. Friedman said she is especially pleased to be partnering with WIZO, which is working to build a shelter in Jerusalem for battered women (a project this newspaper described on our June 11 cover story). Funds raised at the Rockleigh event will go to the shelter.

“We’re doing this under the banner of achdut” — unity — “in the community,” Ms. Friedman said. “We want to turn women on to a love of challah-baking and their Jewish heritage.

“The project has really taken off in the last week. The numbers are rising.”

Noting the success of last year’s Shabbos Project, WIZO chair Galina Shenfeld of Cresskill pointed out that more than 400 sites around the world did something to mark Shabbat on the designated day. Bergen County, she said, echoing Friedman’s sentiment, “did not plan in advance, but at the last minute.”

Not so this year.

Noting the win-win nature of her group’s new partnership with Friedman’s group, Dr. Shenfeld, a physician,  called the challah-bake a “wonderful initiative, with a great group of volunteers all over Bergen County. But they’re not a nonprofit organization and don’t have a center to organize them.” WIZO, she said, will be able to help in many ways.

This year, at WIZO’s suggestion, challah-bake participants will be asked to pay $18 for admission. They will get a lot for their money, Dr. Shenfeld said, including an apron, ingredients for two challahs, mixing bowls, measuring cups, trays, and covering towels.

“We are buying everything,” she said; and the “100 percent volunteer” organization receives its funding through sponsorships and donations.

In addition to what she hopes will be a 1,000-person event at Rockleigh, Dr. Shenfeld said the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston is planning to have 300 people at its location — also under WIZO auspices — and a woman in Atlantic City has committed to organize an event there. WIZO also has been in touch with a group in Kiev, which hopes to draw 50 women to its challah-bake. “We’re sending them the same aprons and brochures,” she said.

Dr. Shenfeld’s goals go way beyond the success of the challah-bake.

“We want to establish an organization that unites Jewish women from all over New Jersey,” she said. Jewish life in New Jersey is different than that of New York, she continued. “Here there are so many towns where the groupings are separate,” she said. “We want to break down the barriers and connect them with one common denominator — love for eretz Israel, and to help other women less fortunate there.”

Dr. Shenfeld cited a famous Russian fairy tale about a group of “single lonely people building a house for the less fortunate. They were building together and they got friendly — something they needed. If we can concentrate on helping unfortunate women in Jerusalem, we can unite over this.”

From left, WIZO’s local board president, Yael Chamay, and chairwomen Mery Nathan and Galina Shenfeld are excited about the challah bake.
From left, WIZO’s local board president, Yael Chamay, and chairwomen Mery Nathan and Galina Shenfeld are excited about the challah bake.

“We have donors, the challah ingredients, and corporate sponsors,” she said. “We can use the [admission] money toward the shelter. If something is given for free, people don’t cherish it. If they pay, they take it seriously.”

Assuming that this year’s challah-bake will be successful, Dr. Shenfeld said there’s no reason why next year’s event shouldn’t draw 5,000 participants.

“Rockleigh has an amazing space, a beautiful venue,” she said. “I know we can get together, uniting without competition.”

Volunteer Debbie Rosalimsky, who was at the challah-bake last year, said she will not only go this year but is working to get women from all over the county, “from all walks of life, observant and non-observant,” to participate as well. “I attended last year and I wanted to be more involved,” she said.

Ms. Rosalimsky, who began to bake only recently, said that after her first challah-bake she “became obsessed. Now I bake weekly. It’s a total passion, and I want to share my passion with these women.

“It brings kedusha” — holiness — “to the home,” she said. “There’s nothing like having home-baked challah. It doesn’t take too long and it’s easier than people think.”

This year, she said, “we’re really trying to step it up a notch.” For example, she noted, unlike last year, bakers will “make the challah from scratch.”

She hopes that “it will be an evening of inspiration and unification. A positive good.” And, she said, pointing to her own experience, “you never know what will touch someone and change their life.

“It’s crazy how it has taken over my life,” she said, citing the many challah-bakes she has attended, both as a student and as a teacher. Her goal is for people to leave the October event feeling more inspired and encouraged. “If someone shows you, then you’re good,” she said.

Great Big Challah Bake

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