By Blair Donner
“This is my favorite break from the week!” said Michelle Silverstein as her expert hands braided dough. Michelle is just one of the many volunteers that attend Chabad’s weekly Challah baking session with Rebbitzin Sarah Goodman. All of the challah is then eaten the next day on Shabbat. Every Thursday, groups of girls participate in the baking process starting at 9:00 p.m. No boys are allowed as baking challah is a special mitzvah for women only. For all participants, this is considered a fun and relaxing activity. As the event takes place the day before Shabbat, the atmosphere is always joyous. Even more exciting is the fact that a mix of newcomers and old friends show up each week. Of course, a solid group of challah bakers regularly commit each week, it is not uncommon for new friends to attend each week as well. All women of the Jewish community are welcomed, and any help is appreciated.
The night always begins with a prayer over the dough used to make the challah. Subsequently, a portion of the dough is then taken aside and burned in respect to G-d. Each time a new batch of dough is used, the process is repeated. Working together, the girls take portions and arrange pieces of dough neatly to be baked. Although braiding is a common practice, swirls and any other designs the girls think of are always encouraged. It’s a time to be creative and have fun! Likewise, a range of fun ingredients are often used in the baking sessions. Volunteers can have fun adding cinnamon, garlic, chocolate chips, and even marshmallows to customize their Challah. Although what is baked is wrapped and saved for the next day, the girls always leave out refreshments to enjoy while they work. In the past, this has included freshly baked banana bread, toasted cinnamon rolls, and brownies! All of it is very delicious.
This practice of Challah baking is important in Jewish tradition, and the act of preparing this custom food is inundated with symbolism and tradition. Braiding Challah has symbolic significance, it symbolizes the command of G-d to observe the ten commandments. The first and second braid represent the values of “Remembering” and “Guarding.” The third braid reminds us that these two prior commands are one unit. In other words, we must always simultaneously remember and guard the ten commandments that G-d gave as members of Judaism. Challah is eaten on major holidays like Rosh Hashanah and on every Shabbat. It is ultimately an important symbol among the Jewish people.
So with this in mind, the Thursday night Challah baking taking place weekly in Chabad House at Rutgers is very important in the Jewish tradition. It’s no wonder that girls consistently show up again and again to fulfill this mitzvah. For any Jewish woman at Rutgers looking to make new friends do not hesitate to stop by! New guests are always welcomed, and plus there is free treats. The girls of Challah baking hope to see you there!
For more information about Chabad House at Rutgers, visit us on the web at chabadrutgers.com, chabadnj.org, or call 732-296-1800