Last week saw The Shabbos Project come to Los Angeles, a Shabbat that encouraged all Jewish people to participate wholly in the Shabbat holiday. It was celebrated in individual homes and with events throughout the city. On Thursday night, October 23rd, women and girls from all across the community joined together at Ohr Eliyahu for one massive challah bake event. Sponsored by Agudath Israel of California and organized by Tali Merewitz of Events Enchanted, the event drew over 300 enthusiastic bakers.
Mrs. Estie Gradon welcomed the crowd, as attendees gathered around dozens of tables which were set up with huge bowls of dough, rolling pins, sesame seeds and everything else you might need in order to create your own special challah.
Shifra Revach spoke, and Nava Ben Moshe ran a beautiful workshop filled with prayer, song, and creative bread making tips. “More than twenty-one different organizations participated,” said Tali Merewitz, the event organizer. “There was such a wide range of women; totally observant, somewhat affiliated, and totally unaffiliated women who all joined in. I think that’s really powerful, an incredible show of unity.”
Unity was the word of the evening. Women of all ages talked and laughed together as they shared out the dough. “Being a new mom and coming into my own – I was raised Reform, but now affiliate with a more Modern Orthodox lifestyle – I find some things so beautiful,” said Valerie Gottlieb, a participant. “I find the mitzvah of challah especially enjoyable, and tonight in particular. It’s not about where you live or what you’re wearing. It’s just a time to come together with other women and say a blessing for Klal Yisroel. Even the braiding of the challah seems to symbolize connection.”
Volunteers from Bnos Devorah High School came early and stayed late to set up the event and greet guests. Fortunately their hard work paid off well. “I think it was a huge success,” agreed volunteer Basya Greenberg, 14. “It was inspirational.”
Inspiration was also an essential part of the evening. “I believe it’s an important thing for the frum community to experience something to enhance their Shabbos, but also to participate in an event that helps unify different communities,” said Laya Jacobson, 14. “There is outreach, but at times people may be hesitant to invite strangers into their homes for Shabbos. When it’s a community gathering, it becomes something more approachable and hopefully sparks interest in the frum community as well as for those who aren’t yet affiliated to join for future Shabboses.”
The challah bake certainly sparked something; 19 women immediately signed up for Shabbos Project meals after attending the event. “I’ve never made challah before,” explained another attendee. “I was a chef, but I’ve never baked bread. As a Jewish woman, it’s a very meaningful ritual. I feel blessed to be here with so many women, taking part in this monumental weekend with women from across the globe.”
Emily Jacobson agreed. “There are three mitzvot given directly to women, and baking challah is one of them,” she said. “Whenever I do this mitzvah, I try to envision myself linking hands with my mother, and with her mother before her, and with women throughout the generations all the way back to the tent of Sarah. And with this event, we are not only joining women through the generations, but also women at events like this one taking place all over the world.”
When asked how she enjoyed the evening, Debbie Zakariaei was equally enthusiastic. “I felt like Jerusalem came right to the middle of LA. There was this feeling of Kedusha. It felt like home.”