LA Comes Together to ‘Keep it Together’ – The Shabbos Project 2015


Devorah Talia Gordon.

The Great Big Challah Bake

Over 1,100 women and girls of all ages attended The Great Big Challah Bake at the Ace Gallery, on Thursday, October 22. The Challah Bake kicked off this year’s Shabbos Project which ran October 23-24. This is now a worldwide, grassroots movement that encourages all Jews, regardless of affiliation, background, and level of observance, to experience one full, halachic Shabbos together.

This year’s Shabbos Project LA was led by Beth Leventhal, Tali Merewitz, Leanne Praw, Naomi Rich and Leebee Mann. Subcommittees were also established and instrumental in the Project, including a rabbinic committee headed by Rabbi Revah of Adas Torah. “Rabbi Revah helped from A to Z, he’s been there for all the questions that arose, every step of the way,” said Leanne Praw.

On Thursday night, the women crowded around each table, aprons on and hands ready to knead. In front of each participant sat a bowl and with pre-measured flour, salt, sugar and yeast. A table captain sat at each group, and was the one person with the full five-pound bag of flour, which is needed in order to be mafrish challah, to ‘take’ a piece of challah with the blessing.

Great Big Challah Bake held in the city

Photos: John Solano Photography

The event was emceed by speaker Jackie Engel, former resident psychologist for the “Today Show.” Engel voiced the goal of the Challah Bake and the Shabbos Project in general, “There is such a power in unity, to join forces and say we are one people, one voice. This has enormous power, and may this be a huge protection for Israel and protect Jews all around the world.”

The program continued with two short video presentations, a challah-making demonstration with step-by-step instructions from Debby Segura, the reading of Tehillim and the mitzvah of hafrish challah led by Shifra Revah and Joyce Azria Trojanowski.

A highlight of the evening was when the camera zoomed in on Rose Kamin, also known as Grandma Rosie, who was celebrating her 100th birthday that very evening. Grandma Rosie said she had never separated challah before, but, “I try every day to do a new mitzvah.”

Grandma Rosie celebrating her 100th birthday by seperating Challah for the first time

Grandma Rosie celebrating her 100th birthday by seperating Challah for the first time

Looking around the room, a community member could see many familiar faces, but in addition, there were women whom one did not recognize, including a group of women from Chile who didn’t speak English. “We had people who had never baked challah in their lives,” said Leanne Praw. “It was spectacular, we couldn’t have imagined how special it would turn out.”

Emily Jacobson invited friends who were not religious, or new to Judaism, to take part. One woman who attended, a recent geirus who lives a distance away, was excited to be at an event with so many Jewish women. While Jacobson noted the profound goal of kiruv, reaching out to the unaffiliated, she also pointed out the power of women coming together to bake challah who are religious. “We have a lot to offer each other, and while some women do, many women do not make challah every week. We also need kiruv krovim.”

Indeed, many women felt good being part of such a vibrant community or meeting a woman who looked familiar, but to whom she’d never spoken. In fact, Jacobson commented that her table, with people who hadn’t pre-booked together, held a richness because it was heterogeneous. Jacobson suggested that next year’s Bake could feature a lottery seating so participants could meet new people rather than coming with family or friends!

At another table, there were women who had never previously baked challah. The table captain said, “There was someone who needed a shidduch. I told her I wasn’t going to ‘take challah,’ she was going to do it.” The woman said the blessing and everyone at her table said a heartfelt ‘amen,’ while also praying for the recent victims of terrorist attacks in Eretz Yisroel.
The evening ended with a beautiful performance by a women’s choir, led by Machla Perkowski, Sarah Gertel and Chaya Kupfer. Women spontaneously arose and joined in dance while the choir sang. Bais Yaakov girls joined arms and formed two lines while singing ‘Acheinu’ as the crowd dispersed. Despite some a/c and acoustic glitches, those in attendance were able to rise above the details and enjoy the evening.


Not only was the event one of achdus, but the actual preparations had already brought the LA community together. The majority of the ingredients for the Bake were donated by Moshe Hecht of Schwartz Bakery, including a whopping 400 pounds of flour. Another 100 pounds of flour was donated by an anonymous supporter. Students from Bais Yaakov pre-measured the flour, while Bnos Devorah students took charge of the sugar and yeast, and YULA students measured the salt, which was provided by Pico Glatt. Aluminum pans were donated by Western Kosher and Glatt Mart and for all those boxes of disposable gloves, our local orthodontists and dentists, Dr. Alexander Waldman, Dr. Bendik, and Dr. Darren Hirt, graciously provided them.

A little further south and in conjunction with the worldwide Shabbos Project, Chabad of Irvine and Beth Jacob of Irvine created the OC Mega Challah Bake for the second year in a row. This year’s event drew about 1,600 women and girls from all over Orange County, including Irvine, San Clemente and Yorba Linda. Held at the Misty May-Treanor Sports Center in Irvine, the Challah Bake was coordinated and executed by community volunteers from several congregations, who spent six months planning the event. “There was a large showing off women from all affiliations,” said Mrs. Natalie Ciner, Rebbetzin of Beth Jacob. “That’s what was so beautiful about it.”

Binie Tenenbaum of Chabad of Irvine demonstrated how to make challah, Debbie Schechter and Gilah Andrufier addressed the crowd, and Natalie Ciner led the recitation of tehillim. In addition, there was a musical performance and comedy sketch, with singing and dancing.

LA’s Largest Shabbat Dinner

On the heels of the Challah Bake came The Shabbos Project 2015 community-wide dinner on Pico Boulevard. The largest Shabbat dinner in Los Angeles history was orchestrated by Josh Golcheh, founder of United Nation of Hashem (UNOH), Josh Banaf, Daniel Braum, and Dara Abaei (JUN). The event closed off Pico Boulevard between Cardiff and Rexford. “Dinner was sold out for 3,000 people, while an additional 500 came to hang out. Each table was set for ten, with their own rolls and grape juice. Rabbis were seated in different areas and were asked to lead those in their section who needed help with Kiddush or hamotzi. About twenty shuls purchased blocks of tables.”

Taken right before Shabbos

Taken right before Shabbos

Golcheh described the evening as being one of unity and kiddush Hashem. “All different backgrounds were represented, including Ashkenazim and Sephardim, with Persians, Syrians, Moroccans, French, among the Sephardic in attendance. There was great organization. Many people, including the guards, were impressed by this. There were no issues and everyone was peaceful and calm.”

When coming upon the scene of so many Jews together, Pico-Robertson resident Aliza Marton said, “I completely lost it. I grew up here, when there was just Pizza Nosh on Pico. I just started crying. We sat with a non-religious family from a different synagogue that we had never met. We all bensched out loud, together. You felt so proud in that environment.”

Sharon’s Catering and Simon’s Catering supplied the Shabbat dinner, which they also partially sponsored. With a lot of hard work and organization, including over 50 waiters and two food stations on Pico, each table had a delicious hot meal served to them. Depending on when you purchased tickets, the cost ranged from $18 to $72, however, Golcheh said that a ticket that day sold for $300.

The organizers spent $20,000 on security, with over 70 guards securing the perimeter. With watchmen placed on rooftops, a guard every fifteen feet on the ground, and Shmira Patrol (not to mention the three units of the LAPD that showed up on their own), those in attendance were very secure.

So how did Pico look on Shabbos morning, after over 3,000 people dined there? “It was spotless,” reported Leanne Praw, “you never would have known we were there. What a kiddush Hashem, the organizers took care of it so people wouldn’t complain.”

Stay tuned, as Josh and Dara are already planning next year’s event. If you’d like to take part, email

From Schools to Shuls: Shabbos Project Highlights

Various schools and shuls did their part to invigorate their communities for the Shabbos Project. At Toras Emes, the girls’ junior high participated in a Yom Iyun, on Friday, October 23. Principal Mrs. Faigy Back and her staff set up various rooms for the girls to experience with a different aspect of Shabbos in each, including hands-on learning about muktzah and hilchos Shabbos, and a video presentation entitled, “Why is Shabbos special to you?”

For the second year in a row, the Westwood Kehilla was privileged to participate in the Shabbos Project. This year the Kehilla’s program included a Friday night dinner with a speaker, a children’s carnival, and Shabbos hospitality with lunch at shul member’s homes. Over 100 adults, at all levels of observance and representing diverse nationalities, enjoyed hearing Paul Greenberg. Paul recounted his directing and producing career adventures, which, with hashgacha pratis, brought him to yiddishkeit. While Paul addressed the adult audience, the children enjoyed a special Shabbos carnival with games, gifts and treats.

The MyAish division of Aish LA, in conjunction with the Happy Minyan and Pico Shul, hosted a large Sephardic Kabbalat Shabbat service at Aish. MyAish reserved seven tables at the Shabbat dinner for 60 young professionals and staff members, and after dinner attended a lecture by Rabbi Yisraeli on, “How to be Sane in an Insane World.” This was followed by a massive oneg at Morry’s Fireplace, geared for young professionals, with a huge percentage of the 3,000 dinner guests in attendance.

On Shabbos morning, Jackie Engel led a beginner’s minyan for the Shabbos Project at Aish haTorah, with close to 200 participants. Aish also hosted Ms. Engel’s Shabbos afternoon shiur for women, which was also well attended.
Congregation Mogen David was the designated shul for a Sephardic minyan for the Shabbos Project. Spearheaded by Rabbi Grama, any Sephardim who wanted to pray in a Sephardic shul on Friday night were welcomed to Mogen Dovid. In attendance was a large turnout of Sephardim from many nationalities, including Iraqi, Moroccan, Syrian, Egyptian and others.

In Beverlywood, Aliza Marton hosted a shalosh seudos for 150 women, attended by women from all backgrounds. Mrs. Marton welcomed the women and pointed out how amazing it was that this Shabbos was the yartzeit of Rochel Imeinu, whom we learn is constantly crying for her children, klal Yisroel. Also in this week’s parashah, Hagar cries out and she is given Ishmael. “We have to be like Rochel,” Mrs. Marton said, “we are meant to cry out to Hashem and counteract her [Hagar’s] cries. And the Jewish women, with the strength of all of us together, are going to do it.” The women said tehillim, enjoyed an abundance of dishes, and heard divrei Torah from Mrs. Shifra Revah and Mrs. Geula Newman.

Havdalah: The End and The Beginning

For the Shabbos Project grand finale, Sam Glaser and a band of several musicians, including Rabbi Yonah of the Pico Shul, led a musical Havdalah concert. The standing-room only crowd in the Pico Shul sang and danced as they escorted out the Shabbos Queen.

Meanwhile, the much smaller gathering of women in Aliza Marton’s dining room, participated in a very special Havdalah service. “When my husband makes Havdalah, our minhag is that my kids all take their own candle and light it from the Havdalah candle, to bring some of the light of Shabbat into the week. I had bought hundreds beforehand. I gave every woman a tea light. Each woman lit and set her candle on the table, hundreds of lights were there.”

All of those lights were not only witness to the beauty of the community of Jews who came together, but represented the abundance of light that, without doubt, was brought into the world on the Shabbos of October 23-24, 2015.