We really wanted to do something to gather women to show unity for Israel and to raise our voices in prayer for Israel and her brave soldiers
Last week, Sharon and I organized A Challah Bake for Israel.
It was a leap of faith because we didn’t have a lot of time to get the word out, and we weren’t sure our event would have many attendees. But we really wanted to do something to gather women to show unity for Israel and to raise our voices in prayer for Israel and her brave soldiers.
I spent the week before the Challah Bake testing challah recipes, ordering flour, oil, yeast, sugar and other supplies and I printed recipe sheets and prayers for the soldiers of the IDF and for the hostages.
Setting up a Challah Bake is more work than you can imagine. Measuring and packaging all the ingredients takes hours, but thankfully we had the help of the wonderful Sisterhood at Kahal Joseph (shoutout to Yvette and Penina).
The room looked beautiful and pulsated with palpable energy as over 70 women and a few men entered the room. On one end of the room, people congregated around our grazing table set up with flowers and brightly colored fruit and vegetable crudité, crispy burekas and Sharon’s creamy, cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip. On the other end of the room, women lit tea light candles and offered prayers for the soldiers and hostages.
There was a huge metal bowl filled with raw dough that rose exuberantly and spilled over the sides, in what I took as a sign of abundant blessing.
On our demonstration table were challot that I had baked to inspire the crowd — one was shaped into a huge Magen David and the other was in the shape of the word Chai (meaning life). There was a huge metal bowl filled with raw dough that rose exuberantly and spilled over the sides, in what I took as a sign of abundant blessing. In the middle of the room, the tables were decorated with blue and white flowers and each baker had a bowl filled with a white bag of flour, other ingredients and a navy blue towel.
After mixing, kneading and covering the dough, we went into the sanctuary. Rabbi Natan Halevy, Sharon’s younger brother, led us in a prayer for the IDF and saying tehillim for the safe return of the hostages. He offered words of encouragement, saying that the Jews of the world were united and that amid the darkness, there was shining light. “If there’s unity in our nation, nothing can beat us,” he said.
Eliana Cohen, the daughter of our dear friend Mona, led us all in a pitch perfect a cappella versions of the Star-Spangled Banner and Ha’Tikvah.
The Jewish Journal’s very own award-winning columnist Tabby Refael gave an engaging speech about the antisemitism that the world is facing. She said this was her first time visiting the Iraqi congregation of Kahal Joseph, but that it brought back memories of growing up under the rule of the Ayatollahs in Iran in the 1980s after the Revolution. As a little girl in Teheran, she attended a school that was part of a synagogue and cultural center built by Iraqi Jews, fleeing antisemitic persecution in the 1950’s. The audience was visibly moved by her accounts of life in Iran and the travails of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.
The mood shifted when artist and yogi Leat Silvera led us on a light-filled, breathing meditation where she led us to a field where we “visited” with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and they gave each of us note with our own blessing. Everyone was visibly moved by the exercise.
When we returned to our challah dough, I was overcome by emotion. Fighting back tears, I dedicated my challah to the son and daughter-in-law of Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the the Sephardic Educational Center. These newlyweds recently returned from their honeymoon and Ilan is with his infantry division in the South and Kayla is with a search and rescue team in the North of Israel. We all said a resounding blessing of “Hafrashat Challah” and everyone left with their blessed dough to bake at home.
I am so proud that all the profits from this event went to the Rica Emquies Israel Fund, a charity helping soldiers and the needy and administered by the SEC. At this time, connecting with one another, shining light and being kind is the greatest thing we can do.
Sometimes life is all about a leap of faith. Sometimes life is about having the the courage to be vulnerable, the courage to be kind and the courage to give of oneself.
Sometimes just being in a room filled with community is all the comfort you need in difficult times.
During the meditation, I held the hand of my 10-year-old niece Aliza. After 15 minutes of deep breathing and relaxation, I left the bright light of Liat’s grassy field with great reluctance. I opened my eyes and I saw tears rolling down Aliza’s cheeks. “What’s wrong?” I asked with great alarm.
“Happy tears,” she replied.
Sephardic Spice Girls Challah Recipe
4 Tbsp active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp sugar
5 lbs high gluten bread flour, more as needed
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp salt
4 large eggs
1/4 cup honey
1¼ cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
1. Combine yeast, warm water and sugar in a glass bowl. Cover with a towel and set aside to proof for 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the eggs, honey and oil and mix well.
3. Add the proofed yeast to the dough and mix until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough feels too sticky to handle, gradually add a little flour.
4. Return dough to the large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Set aside to rise in a warm spot for one hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
6. Separate the dough into sections and braid into challah. Allow each challah to rise 15 minutes. Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with toppings and bake for about 45-55 minutes, until challah is golden brown.
7. Allow challah to cool completely before storing.
Note: It is a mitzvah to make the blessing of Challah when baking 5 lbs of bread dough.
Transliteration: Baruch ata Adonai elo-hainu Melech Ha’olam asher kid’shanu b’mit zvotav v’tziva’anu l’hafrish challah.
Translation: Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.
Separate a small piece of dough, approximately one ounce, and say: “This is challah.”
Burn the challah by wrapping it in a piece of silver foil and placing in the oven.
Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.