When you really think about it, covering challah is kind of strange. Will these store bought loaves get cold if I leave them on the table uncovered? Is it to keep those tiny curious hands from picking out the raisins before you can wrangle everyone to the table? Is it because Jews are diametrically opposed to the idea of tablescapes and need some other way to fancy up their tables?
In reality, it’s a technicality of Jewish law, halacha. When we say blessings over food, there is a certain pecking order to how it’s done. You go by the order the foods are mentioned in the Torah. Bread trumps all. But what about the lovely sing-songy Kiddush we recite for wine, you ask? If you cover the challah, it’s like it’s not there. It can be set aside while you do the blessing over the wine, then uncovered–tadah!–and blessed. This way the challah doesn’t feel upstaged.
Having a lovely challah cover is essentially just another element to add to the beauty of Shabbat. And hey–maybe us Jews invented the tablescape. Stranger things have happened. Here’s how to make this beautiful batik challah cover.
*This project is adaptable from toddlers to teens. Follow the steps that best fit your child’s abilities to create a beautiful item for your Shabbat table. Also note that this project requires lots of drying time, so plan for patience.
Heavy cotton fabric or light canvas cut to approximately 16×20 inches
Craft paint in a range of colors
Open garbage bag or heavy stock paper to lay under your fabric for gluing and painting
Pencil Small bowls or empty yogurt containers
1. Begin to sketch out your design with pencil directly onto the fabric. You may want to add “Shabbat” in Hebrew or your own pattern. *For younger children, complete this step and the next on your own and hand over the project to them at Step 3. Older children might be able to draw the pattern but require some help in in Step 2.
2. Trace all your pencil lines with a heavy line of glue. As the glue dries it will become thinner, so make sure your glue line is solid enough to clearly mark any design you will want in your final product. Allow glue to dry overnight or set aside until completely dry, then continue to next step.
3. Pour quarter sized dollops of paint into empty yogurt containers or other small bowls, and water down and mix until the paint is entirely dissolved. Your paint will dry a few shades lighter so plan to mix colors a few shades darker. (You’re basically making your own watercolors.)
4. Be sure your garbage bag or craft paper is under your fabric, and begin to paint. Paint directly on your fabric allowing the colors to spread over the glue pattern you prepared the day before. The paint will behave like watercolors so expect your colors to blend into the fabric and spread. Remember to protect clothing and furniture as this will stain.
5. When satisfied with the painting, set aside to dry completely. When your entire cover is dry to the touch, you can put it into a mixing bowl of warm water to dissolve the glue. Help your children to peel off the glue either with their nails or a small nail brush. Return to warm water if needed and continue the peeling until all glue is removed.
6. Allow your Challah cover to dry. If you’d like, you can sew a backing on the cover or trim in ribbon for a finished edge.
Enjoy your handmade treasure at your next Shabbat meal!