From Beverly Hills to Balboa, this past week saw neighborhoods filled with an unusually strong aroma of homemade challah. Hardly surprising; the first Shabbat following Passover is traditionally the time for challah baking. Many place a key inside the challah as a segulah for parnassah and a merit for good fortune. As a key opens a door, we bury it in our dough so that it will create a small opening, the size of a needle, through which Hashem will be able to pour his blessings.
In Yiddish this is known as Shlissel Challah and many women still enjoy the custom with community bakes. Los Angeles has been busy with this tradition and last week saw several packed events at city temples, Persian shuls, Chabad houses and more.
On April 16th, Chabad of North Hollywood joined the fun and opened their doors to a manic and magnificent Mega Challah Bake. More than 300 women showed up for a suave lesson in bread making although some did not need much instruction. These experts have been baking best-ever challah since learning the art from their bubbe in their infancy.
For others, the secrets and techniques were gleefully received. You could hear the yeast bubble, such was the concentration of these new chefs who were pleased to join in the tradition of Challah baking that has been at the forefront of Jewish homes since the earliest days. At this Mega Challah Bake, the Rebbetzin’s purchased 500lbs of flour, 380 eggs, oil, yeast and sugar to provide the necessary ingredients for the crowd. The recipe of our long-ago matriarchs was just the same, although it’s unlikely they limited the mess by wearing pink rubber gloves as were provided to the North Hollywood crowd.
All the women were pleased to be included in top secret tips, for instance, just a small amount of sugar will get the yeast in action. A good dough is made by using only your cupped hand, not your fingertips and mix as long as you can before you knead and the bread will come out lighter. Shaping a 6 strand challah is truly tricky but while you’re creating your final braid, don’t forget the few drops of oil that should be placed on the dough to help it rise.
As the crowd dispersed, wooden spoons, stylish new aprons and large mixing bowls in their hands, the feeling was unanimous, “I shall start to bake every week with my kids!” “I didn’t know it was so easy!” “This inspires me to be better and more learned,” and other variations of the same optimism were shared with abandon.
The event was a partnership of Chabad of North Hollywood, Tarzana, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Studio City, Woodland Hills, Tampa and Lake Encino. The evening was dedicated to the memory of Adina Rozel who was known for her hospitality and her love for the land of Israel.
The Eretz Cultural Center in Tarzana also hosted a packed event for 300 on April 16th and along with a shiur and baking, there was high energy singing to help the dough rise. The memorable evening lasted until 11pm. Don’t worry if you missed these events; you can still join Chabad in Valencia who have another event planned for April 23rd.