Lots and lots of challahs in Rockland and Bergen
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Lots and lots of challahs in Rockland and Bergen

Jodi Rabinowitz of Suffern,, left, with Staci Caridi, the deputy mayor of the village of Montebello. (Courtesy Chabad of Suffern)
Jodi Rabinowitz of Suffern,, left, with Staci Caridi, the deputy mayor of the village of Montebello. (Courtesy Chabad of Suffern)

Hundreds of volunteers from the Suffern, Pascack Valley, and Saddle River communities, armed with 2,021 care packages, spread a message of kindness and giving to neighbors on two consecutive January Fridays as part of the Share the Loaf initiative. It’s a project of the Chabad Jewish Center of Suffern and Valley Chabad, which caters to the surrounding areas, and celebrates the life of Helen Book of Suffern, whose warmth to family, friends, and perfect strangers was legendary. It encourages the community to sign up to take on a good deed on their websites, to pass on a care package to a friend, and to be a light in these dark times. The project is made possible by Robert Book, a local resident, who has dedicated the project in memory of his mother. It was set to coincide with the shloshim—or 30-day anniversary—of Helen’s death.

“Helen was a person who made you feel you were doing her a favor when in fact, she was the one giving to you,” Mr. Book said.

“She proved that the best way to receive is to give first, and to pay forward the kindness done to you,” Rabbi Shmuel Gancz, the project’s co-founder, who directs the Chabad Jewish Center of Suffern with his wife, Devorah, said. “In my years of visiting her, I learned from her that by doing kindness toward others, you benefit yourself. How fitting that her life will be celebrated by beginning countless chains of kindness and love right here in Suffern, and spread to the wider community.”

Jayne Petak, of River Vale, past president of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, gets ready to deliver challahs to her neighbors.
(Courtesy Valley Chabad)

So, on those Fridays, hundreds of volunteers prepared and delivered thousands of homemade Shabbat challot to their neighbors—many of whom have had little social interaction during the pandemic. The goal was to encourage them to pay it forward by going out of their way for someone else. The packages were packed and delivered with stringent safety and hygiene standards to ensure the recipients would safely enjoy the Shabbat treats. The care package contained traditional Shabbat staples including homemade challah, a can of Bartenura Moscato wine, a Shabbat candle gift package, and a Shabbat guide.

“If we want 2021 to be better and kinder, we need to make it better and kinder!” Rabbi Gancz said.

“Together with this first step of sharing the warmth of Shabbat with our friends and neighbors, recipients will be encouraged and inspired to continue on with acts of kindness to their own acquaintances and colleagues,” Rabbi Dov Drizin, co-founder of Share the Loaf and director of Valley Chabad, added. “This is how we heal a chaotic world: one good deed at a time, one ray of light at a time.”

For more information, go to sharetheloaf.org and sharetheloafnj.org.

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