I hate going out on weeknights. After a long day at work and a seemingly endless commute home, I start preparing dinner almost immediately after I hang up my coat. My children have homework to finish, then they argue over sharing Legos or what they want to watch on TV. Bath time immediately follows dinnertime, and then — finally! — bed time.
By the end of the whole process, the last thing I want to do is get back in my car.
But once a month, I leave my two young daughters in my husband’s capable hands and head to a group challah bake, in which a dozen women typically gather to make the traditional Jewish bread. I drive across town to an old Colonial house on a busy street. There, I sip tea at a large dining room table and knead a giant ball of challah dough.
It turns out that group challah bakes are seriously fun — more fun than I ever expected it to be. Here’s why.
1) I get to socialize with adults. Yes, I talk to adults during my day. I’m a high school counselor, so I spend a good portion of my day speaking with colleagues or my students’ parents. But all those conversations are all work-related. Conversations at challah bakes are pure fun — we talk about our families, trips we’ve taken, and of course, cooking.
2) It’s a way to meet other Jewish women of all types. Some of us have young children at home; others are parenting teens. Some of us are married while others are divorced or widowed. Some of us bake challah for weekly Shabbat dinners; others have never attempted it before. But a dusting of flour hides our differences and allows us to focus on all the things we have in common.
3) It’s efficient. My children are challah snobs. They’ve taken bites of perfectly lovely store-bought challah and wrinkled their noses. “You did not make this, Mama,” one of my daughters will say, and she’ll hand her slice back to me. As a working mom, however, I’ve struggled to find the time to make homemade challah every week. Enter the challah bake, which enables me to batch-prep four or five loaves at a time. I can freeze the dough — or bake, then freeze the loaves — and voila! I have several weeks worth of challah that my children love to eat.
4) I get to learn new things. A challah bake gave me the gift of a new, delicious recipe. But that’s just the beginning: Through the challah bakes, I learned about the mitzvah of “taking challah,” in which we separate a tiny bit of dough from the rest and burn or discard it. I’ve found it to be a meaningful practice that elevates mundane task into something holy.
5) It’s better than yoga. Preparing challah is arguably one of Judaism’s most basic forms of mindfulness. When I’m making challah by hand, I have to be in the moment — I’m not thinking about an upcoming work meeting or mentally making a grocery list. Instead, my focus is on pouring the correct amount of oil into the bowl, or feeling the dough’s texture to determine if it needs more flour. By the time my loaves are braided and wrapped, I feel relaxed, and ready to face the rest of the week.
Baking challah has become an important part of my life as a Jewish mother. For me, it’s a way to remember thousands of years of tradition.
As I light my Shabbat candles, I’m reminded of the households around the world that are doing the same thing simultaneously. And as I eat my slice of challah, I think of the dozen other women from the challah bake that made it with me, and I smile.