Hundreds of women participated in challah bakes at Bensalem High School and at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, a local observation of an international event designed to build Jewish identity.
In Judaism, along with lighting the Shabbos candles and going in the mikvah, baking challah is one of the three mitzvot for women. On Oct. 22, hundreds of women and girls mixed, kneaded and braided challah as they participated in challah bakes at Bensalem High School and at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, a local observation of an international event designed to build Jewish identity.
The Bensalem Outreach Center sponsored its second annual challah bake, while Barrack Parent Teacher Organization, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Aish Philadelphia partnered to hold its first event together.
Last year in Bensalem, 200 women from numerous backgrounds and affiliations baked challah, including volunteer Kaby Beshansky. Beshansky, a member of the shul, said it was a night she will never forget.
“The most memorable part of last year’s challah bake was a palpable sense of unity despite the diverse geographical locations and varied levels of observance,” Beshanksy said. “Whether it was your first time making challah or your hundredth, the mitzvah took on a whole new meaning as we reignited our sense of pride in being a Jewish woman. The camaraderie we experienced that night was not something you can plan, yet something to cherish for years to come.”
The event was part of The Shabbos Project, which aimed to mobilize more than one million Jews worldwide to pause and observe the Sabbath together on Oct. 23-24. It began in 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa, but quickly spread across social media and grew into a global grassroots movement. Thousands of special local events were planned this year, including synchronized challah baking, communal meals, prayer services, concerts and weekend-long celebrations.
Shoshanna Kay, a teacher from Aish, ran the program at Barrack. “This year, we wanted to make it about the spectrum of the Jewish community,” Kay said. “It’s really beautiful to be able to see that we were able to accomplish our goal of creating unity and bringing everyone together in a multigenerational experience. So often, we feel estranged from our Judaism. The key to the entire evening is making sure everyone feels included.”
Rabbi Leah Richman, community engagement specialist at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia had never participated in a challah bake before, but wanted to bring this growing popular trend to Philadelphia.
“I think it’s a very moving project [the Shabbos Project],” she said. “When I saw the video online for the first time, I literally cried.”
Alana Ufberg, 7, who attends Perelman Jewish Day School in Wynnewood, was there with her mother, Janie. Alana, who had her arms buried deep in the dough, often helps Janie make challah at home and loves adding chocolate chips.
In 2013, Janie went to Israel with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, where 100 women made challah together and since then, she and her daughter make it as often as possible.
“It’s really special,” Janie said. “It’s great to see the community coming together to do a mitzvah in making challah.”
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