Baking Up International Solidarity, One Loaf of Challah at a Time

What’s one thing you absolutely need on your Shabbat table? No, not wine. The other thing.


On Nov. 9, women from all around Philadelphia and surrounding areas will come together for the Great Big Challah Bake to — you guessed it — bake challah with hundreds of women worldwide as part of the international Shabbos Project.

Started in South Africa in 2013, the Shabbos Project “is a global, grassroots movement that brings Jews from across the world together around our shared heritage of Shabbat,” according to its website.

This year, through the project, the world will celebrate Shabbat together Nov. 11 and 12, but first, there is challah to bake.

“[The Great Big Challah Bake] is really part of a worldwide initiative of Jewish unity and celebrating Shabbos,” said Sarah Fineman, director of development at Aish Philadelphia, which is organizing the Philadelphia Challah Bake at Har Zion Temple at 7 p.m.

“We’re just one piece of this giant picture, and we’re really looking to bring together Jewish women from all over Philadelphia to bake challah together,” she continued. “Some people have been doing this for years every week and some have never done it before, and now, [this is] for us to share something Jewish women have been doing for generations.”

Women in hundreds of cities will be baking challah at the same time, creating a unique opportunity for global connections.

“It’s such a great feeling to be part of a community and then to realize that this is happening all over the world,” Fineman said. “It’s not just myself and my friends, but I’m part of this greater sisterhood.”

The significance of baking challah in particular instead of a Great Big Chicken Roast or Great Big Matzah Ball Soup-off dates to biblical times.

For Fineman, baking challah creates a connection to our foremothers.

There are three special commandments that are specifically for women that date to the matriarchs in the Bible, Fineman explained, though anyone is welcome to come.

“One of them is challah, so it’s not making bagels or pizza — there’s something spiritual in making challah,” she continued. “It’s not just bread; it’s finding spirituality in the most mundane thing, which is bread. It’s elevating it to something greater and of higher value.”

With Sarah as the original foremother who followed the commandment of making challah and keeping it fresh throughout the week, Fineman added that the Great Big Challah Bake is a way to follow in the footsteps “of our matriarch.”

Last year, Fineman participated in a challah bake in South Jersey and is looking forward to the same experience in Philadelphia.

“I’m really excited to see the community come together and for people to experience the feeling of unity and doing something that binds us not just throughout the world but throughout time,” she said.

Aish partnered with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Women’s Philanthropy group for the event.

Cari Lasdon, a volunteer with Women’s Philanthropy, helped organize the event.

“It’s going to be a fun night,” she said. “It’s going to be a feel-good night and a community-building kind of night. It’s a fun way to get to know other people. It’s a very relaxed evening, no pressure, no ask or anything like that. It’s a good way for people who’ve never done anything with Aish or [Jewish] Federation to get involved.”

The Jewish Federation also partnered with the Etz Chaim Center, which, with the Kehillah of Old York Road and Beth Sholom Congregation, is organizing a Challah Bake at Beth Sholom Congregation at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 9.

Gevura Davis, women and family director of Etz Chaim, was excited at the idea of including the Elkins Park area in the initiative.

When Davis started to make challah she made “every mistake in the book,” she laughed. Now, after years of practice, she teaches others how to do it and understands its importance.

“Bringing people together to do a mitzvah like bake challah is a way of creating community,” she said. “People belong to different synagogues or maybe don’t go to synagogue and people have different levels of observance and affiliation, and it’s nice for us to break down those barriers and have an opportunity to meet new people, get to know our neighbors and connect in a Jewish way, even if we’re very different in other ways.

“If we want to understand each other and have dialogue and share experiences, it’s important to spend time with other people,” she said. “The Great Big Challah Bake is a great example of that.”

The challah bake at Beth Sholom is also open to men.

No matter who participates, Davis is certain the result will be that of unification and bonding — and a delicious addition to the Shabbat table.

“One thing I’ve always found is we as Jews have so much more in common than different,” she said, “and even if we may observe Judaism differently, we all share core Jewish values like family, tradition … Challah is really a beautiful example of bringing those traditions together.

“And, of course,” she added with a laugh, “it’s yummy also.”

The Bensalem Jewish Outreach Center also will participate in the Great Big Challah Bake for the third consecutive year and hopes ito break its record number of participants

On Nov. 10, women of all backgrounds and affiliations can participate at Bensalem High School at 6:15 p.m. Rabbi Moshe Travitsky recommends registering for the event in advance.

As one of the first steps to preparing for Shabbat is making challah, Travitsky hopes having so many women of all backgrounds will encourage those who participate.

“Everyone gets inspired when you have multitudes of women coming together to do this,” he said.

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