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Challah Making Club Brings Women Together


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What do you get when you combine 150 pounds of flour, 16 dozen eggs, 128 ounces dry yeast, 25 pounds sugar, 24 ounces canola oil, and 4 pounds of Kosher salt?

The Jewish Women’s Society Challah Making Club!

Thirty women get together once a month for lots of love, laughter, and learning (and wisecracks about yeast—sorry I couldn’t resist). The long tables are filled with big bowls, measuring cups, spoons and we all have our own spot to combine, mix, and braid the ingredients into eight mini loaves (or fewer depending on the size and shape) of challah.

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Some women are balaboostas, effortlessly rolling and stretching the dough in the palms of their hands into the perfect shape of a snake, while others like me still struggle to pinch and tuck the ends. It doesn’t matter; it’s not a competition. We are all there for each other and to have a good time. Sure, I admit I envy the intricate eight-braided challahs and round cinnamon bun designs that line the foil pans ready to take home and show off to their families. I’m still proud of myself for trying, and it all tastes heavenly when it comes out of the oven gold brown, crunchy on the outside, sweet and chewy inside. Honestly, the best part of the night is being a part of this sisterhood and doing an ancient mitzvah while I wear my blue “Keep Calm and Bake Challah” apron.

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I love how Jewish teachers have analogies for everything, like when Mimi David, the Director of Women’s Education at Aish HaTorah, instructs us to knead the dough until it’s “as soft as a baby’s tushy.”

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Ahhh, we can all relate to that and we continue to push, pull, pound, twist, and knuckle the dough.

“If you’re not sweating when working the dough, you’re not doing it right. You should feel the workout in your upper arms,” commands our small-but-mighty leader as she stands on top of a chair so we can all see and hear every morsel of her wisdom.

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“The Challah Making Club is social, fun, educational and you get to take home batches of challah” says the mom of seven, who earlier in the day had a bag of flour explode in her face and was covered in white powdery stuff.

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“For me, making challah is a chore that’s on my to do list, but when we all get together to make challah and say the blessing, everyone feels the positive energy in the room. It’s very powerful and I love it,” she says.

Throughout the evening, Mimi explains the origin of the divine dough and not only how we make challah, but why. The WHY in Judaism is always so interesting because there’s a reason for everything we do, and JWS inspires us to learn more and live more Jewishly.

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Actually, the root of the word “challah” is chol, which means ordinary or secular. We carry on this sacred tradition that women started after the destruction of the second temple.

“There is nothing more ordinary than eating bread. Bread sustains us and is a staple of life. What makes challah a mitzvah is combining the physical with the spiritual when we separate the dough and say a blessing in the merit of someone we love before braiding,” Mimi explains.

Then altogether, we recite the blessing:

Baruch ata Adonoy, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidishanu bimitzvo’sav, vitzivanu lihafrish challah min ha-issa.

 Blessed are You God, King of the Universe, Who made us holy with His commandments, and commanded us to separate challah from the dough.

Many women use this moment to pray for their family or for the Jewish people, or for anyone who is in need of a special merit, whether it’s physical, emotional, financial. Nothing is too big or too small to ask God.

Next, we separate a piece of dough (about the size of an egg), and this is the moment we are supposed to feel a deep, spiritual connection to the Almighty. In ancient times, this dough was offered to a priest, the Kohen. Today, we commemorate this portion by wrapping the dough in foil and discarding it in the trash, or some burn it or throw it in the freezer every week and burn it on Passover to get rid of the chametz. It may sound silly to throw away a piece of dough, but we do it anyway because, well, it’s tradition.

Now it’s time to get creative with our culinary skills! We add chocolate chips, honey, raisins, Nutella, whatever we want (or sesame seeds, salt and garlic for a savory kick) to the dough. I pour cinnamon sugar on everything and call it a day.

After we wrap our challahs in plastic and wash our supplies in the kitchen sink, the mitzvah of making challah makes better sense. The ordinary holy task of making these braided loaves nourishes our body and soul. For me, what makes challah special is how this braided bread transforms our family on a Friday night. Challah brings us together around the table. Challah invites us to say prayers, light the candles, drink wine, break bread, and bless our children. The aroma of freshly baked bread fills our kitchen, warms our home, our hearts so much so that it doesn’t even matter if I burned the brisket (can’t overcook brisket). On Shabbat, our conversation around the table lingers longer, as we watch my husband drizzle honey on the challah and sometimes eat it with a fork like dessert.

Shabbat Shalom, hope you enjoy this recipe and have a restful, peaceful Shabbat!

The Challah Making Club is one of many fun, inspirational classes, events, and activities that the Jewish Women’s Society (JWS) offers throughout the year. Women of all backgrounds are welcome! Here’s the blog I wrote about our recent Back-to-School Coffee Schmooze. For more info on JWS, contact Mimi David, MimiDavid@aish.com.

Mimi’s Challah Recipe

  1. Pour 4 cups warm water into your bowl (should feel like drawing a warm bath for baby in the sink)
  2. Add ½ sugar
  3. Add 4 T yeast
  4. Stir gently until yeast is moistened (don’t over stir or manhandle it)
  5. Wait until yeast becomes spongy
  6. Add 16 cubs flour
  7. Add 1 cup sugar
  8. Add 3 T Kosher salt
  9. Add 1 cup oil

Add 6 eggs, checked first for blood spots.

Knead together until smooth, adding more flour if necessary.