Enthusiastic Crowds Turn Out for L.A. Challah Baking Events
Over 800 women attended The Great BIG Los Angeles Challah Bake which took place this past Thursday evening, October 26th. The Challah Bake – a prelude to the Shabbat Project, but an event in its own right – aims to educate Jewish women about the powerful mitzvah of hafrashas challah (separating the dough) and assist them in fulfilling this mitzvah in a meaningful way, many for the first time.
The many dedicated volunteers coordinated two simultaneous events at Adas Torah and Shalhevet High School. Both venues displayed tasteful décor, impeccable organization, attention to detail and a multi-faceted program that educated, inspired and uplifted all who were in attendance.
Both events began with a short reception of food and drinks after which the participants were ushered to their tables. As women and girls found their seats and conversed with those around them, past Shabbos Project events throughout the world were projected over the screens highlighting the sheer magnitude and impact of these events. Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein recorded a short, personal message for the Los Angeles communities, as well.
At Adas Torah, the program began with spirited dancing and song led by Mrs. Srula Chaiton. Mrs. Devorah Zheutlin welcomed the participants and shared a novel thought about the power of hafrashas challah and its ability to inject great holiness into our homes and our world. Mrs. Huvi Abramczik expounded upon this thought as she demonstrated the challah kneading and discussed the immediate and powerful blessing that a woman brings into her home when fulfilling this mitzvah. She explained that lush (Hebrew for “kneading”) shares its etymology with the word lashon, “language.” Thus, our chachamim explain that as we add the various ingredients to form and knead our dough, it is an auspicious time to pray.
As the dough was left to rise, Mrs. Abramczik led the audience in the recitation of tehillim. The program continued with the heart-felt singing of “Ani Maamin.” Then, Mrs. Devorah Zheutlin invited octogenarians Mrs. Susan Ungar and Mrs. Leah Chopp to the dais to share a small glimpse of their life stories. Poised and eloquent, Mrs. Ungar and Mrs. Chopp captivated the audience with their personal stories which highlighted the sanctity of Shabbos and the permanence of the Jewish people.
After Mrs. Chopp and Mrs. Ungar recited the brachah of hafrashas challah for the crowd, each table captain led her table in the recitation of the brachah on her table’s five pounds of dough. Inspired by the speakers, participants prayed for G-d’s kindness, expansion, children, blessing and salvation. Mrs. Abramczik demonstrated various challah braiding techniques and participants formed their own dough into challah. As could be expected, there were many first-time braiders who displayed great talent, forming intricate braids without any assistance, while others enjoyed the process, forming less-than-perfect looking challos which were nonetheless infused with holiness and friendship and a commitment to perhaps try it again another week.
The program concluded with energetic dancing led by talented Srula Chaiton. Participants left the evening with beautifully formed challos, newly formed friendships and a deep appreciation for each other and the spiritual mitzvah of challah baking.
The program at Shalhevet was similar in form and message to the program at Adas with a few notable differences. Many outreach organization’s tables were generously sponsored, among them Aish IGNITE, LAJ, TLC, Etta Israel, USC Hillel and Shalhevet High School. There was a great presence of young women and high school students at this event, many with little or no exposure to their Jewish heritage. Mrs. Rachel Victor led the invigorating dancing. Mrs. Bruria Segal introduced the evening with a poignant parable accredited to Rav Elchonon Wasserman, ztz”l, comparing the bread-making process to life itself. The story underscored the foresight and innate emunah of Jewish women to see past pain and devastation, trusting that at times hardship is a necessary component of Hashem’s process to produce goodness and beauty.
Mrs. Machla Perkowski demonstrated the process of challah baking, and echoed a similar message to Mrs. Abramczyk about the immediate and definite blessing that hafrashas challah brings to the home. She also impressed upon the crowd the power of prayer while kneading the dough and speaking with Hashem, infusing a seemingly physical act with extraordinary spirituality. She called upon Mrs. Sharon Wiener and two of her daughters, Elanit and Yael, to recite the brachah as the audience witnessed the mutual love and respect the mother-daughter trio exuded as well as their love for Hashem and mitzvos. Elanit Wiener led the crowd in the recitation of tehillim after which Mrs. Machla Perkowski deftly demonstrated how to form a four-strand braided challah and a ball braid.
At Shalhevet, the table captains kneaded their own five pounds of dough from scratch using pre-measured ingredients, recited the brachah and table participants united in prayer as they prayed for individual and communal salvations, health and Hashem’s closeness.
At both locations, many women cried tears of joy and peace. Many left with a new and more admirable impression of their Jewish sister at a different level of religious observance. There was a palpable feeling of unity, of spirituality, and longing to get closer to Hashem and each other.
The evening’s success was largely due to the many hard-working volunteers who invested their time, energy and talents to the worthy cause. High School students from Shalhevet, Bnos Devorah, YULA, Bais Yaakov and Bnos Esther assisted in the set-up, preparations, measuring ingredients, dancing, engaging the participants and the clean-up. There were many financial sponsors, too many to enumerate, but the Challah Bake would like to single out Myriad Genetics and The Hecht Family of Schwartz bakery for their generous corporate sponsorship.
The Challah Bake is just one division of The Shabbos Project, the brainchild of Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa. In 2012, he envisioned a Shabbat where Jews all over South Africa would unite to observe the laws of Shabbat in their entirety with joy and light. Since then, this project has traversed the globe, in hundreds of cities in various countries and languages.
Aside for the two large sister-events in Adas Torah and Shalhevet High School, thousands of women participated in different Challah Bakes throughout the city. Many schools held mother-daughter events, among them Maimonides, Emek, Valley Torah and Milken. Nessah Synagogue welcomed over 300 participants and in the Pacific Palisades both Chabad and Kehillat Israel hosted events. Rebbetzin Carine Horowitz of Makor Hachaim led an intimate evening of spirituality and song and Young Israel of Northridge held an uplifting event as well. Plans are already underway for an even larger and more impactful event for next year.