By: Jane Hanser
It took much more than 2,000 tablespoons of yeast, 4,000 cups of water, 500 cups of oil, 1,334 tablespoons of kosher salt, and 12,000 cups of flour (and flavorful toppings such as cinnamon and sugar, poppy seed, sesame and garlic and salt), 1000 wooden spoons, mixing bowls and tin pans, and cans of non-stick spray PAM to create the Mega Challah Bake that filled the voluminous halls of Moseley’s-on-the-Charles ballroom in Dedham, MA, on Thursday evening, October 22. Over one thousand Jewish women from the Greater Boston area and an immeasurable amount of good will, good thoughts, and community spirit graced the event that celebrated unity and gratitude to God.
The event, a “hakhel,” an assembly of Jews, was repeated in cities around the country (New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Cleveland, Boulder, San Diego and more) and the world (South Africa, Israel, London), all on Thursday evening, all beginning at the same evening hour. “It felt exciting to be part of the project that was pulling together Jewish women from all over the world,” said Beth Fox of Newton, MA,
Women came with their adolescent and teenage daughters, their friends, sisters, colleagues and sisters-in-law. They came from all over, as far away as Danvers, Framingham, Lynn, Marlborough, Medford, Norwood, Peabody, Sharon, Somerville, Walpole, and even Providence, Rhode Island. Some, such as Yulia Costello from Dover, was a first time challah maker. “I loved it,“ she said, at the end of the evening. Some, such as Nhien Bui from Dorchester, had made challah previously but wanted to learn more about Jewish challah traditions for her upcoming wedding.
The one thousand women added and mixed ingredients together and punched and kneaded dough. While they were waiting for their dough to rise, the women and girls of each table locked arms and sang “Hinei Ma Tov u’Manayim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad.” Conversation among table members was brisk with people getting to know each other, as participants at each table were mixed with those they knew and those they didn’t (yet). But at one point during the festivities, the large hall became silent and solemn with all eyes fixed upon the big screens placed around the hall: When each participant had registered for the event online, she had included the name(s) of those for whom she wanted a brachot (blessings) said. Now, as each of those names appeared on the big screens, it was silently read by all the participants. At another point, a tsadaka box was passed around each table and each participant placed a coin in the box. “When we bake challah, we give tsadaka and we have good thoughts in mind. We are grateful to HaShem,” said Chabad of Newton Centre’s Sari Lieberman, one of the organizers.
A portion of the proceeds raised by a raffle held during the evening was donated to Chabad’s Terror Victims Project. Those serving in the IDF were remembered during the recitation of Psalm 121 in Hebrew and in English.
The event, jointly hosted by the Chabads of Brandeis, Brighton, Chestnut Hill, Harvard, Hingham, Kenmore Square, Mansfield, MIT, Natick, Needham, Newton Centre, Northeastern, Sharon, Stoughton, Sudbury, Tufts (Medford) and more, was open to all Jewish women: “I met people from all different branches of Judaism, “ said one participant. “It was awesome.”
Said another, as she walked out smiling, “The people were good. The organization was good. The evening was good. It was a great evening.”
The women who attended left with a lot more than two loaves of challah (braided and ready to be baked), an apron, and a challah recipe. Whether they were going to bake their loaves when they arrived home or freeze it overnight and bake it some other time, they left with good thoughts, a sense of unity and, as Channy Chein from Brandeis Chabad said, “Am echad b’lev echad” (One people with one heart).