By R.M. Grossblatt
I almost missed Atlanta’s Great Big Challah Bake, part of the worldwide Shabbat Project, scheduled for Thursday evening, Oct. 22, at the Marcus Jewish Community Center.
A week before the event, my friend Sarah called for tickets for both of us.
“They’re sold out,” she reported. In fact, there was a waiting list. I had missed last year’s Great Big Challah Bake at the Marcus JCC, and it looked as if I would miss this one also.
Thursday morning, my phone rang. “Good news,” said Janet, my boss at Judaica Corner. “I have an extra ticket.”
Someone she had paid for couldn’t make it. I felt sorry for the person whose place I would be taking but thrilled for myself.
It’s not as if I haven’t been part of other challah bakes. Last year I joined Chabad’s elegant event in a downtown hotel, bringing women together from all over Georgia in memory of Rashi Minkowicz.
And several times in small groups in Toco Hills I’ve made challah dough with other women. At these sessions, we prayed for others to heal, find a marriage partner or have a healthy baby. There’s something powerful about joining with women to make challah, and each session has its own distinct quality.
For me, the Great Big Challah Bake at the Marcus JCC that Thursday evening had the quality of sisterhood as women from unaffiliated to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform came together to make challah.
After registering outside the building, I walked into the lobby of the JCC and was directed to the Blank Gymnasium. Here the lights were so bright, I could recognize people from across the room. Women were hugging each other, smiling, laughing.
About 60 round tables were set up for preparing challah. At the door, girls from Temima High School helped women find their tables. These are my girls, whom I have the privilege of davening with in the morning, so right away I felt a connection.
But the connection to others I’d never met happened at Table 40, my table, as we were making challah.
At each place setting was a plastic bowl, cup and water bottle inside an oblong foil pan. In the middle of the table were brown paper bags of various sizes labeled flour, sugar, yeast and salt.
Working from the same recipe, we passed around the bags, sharing the cups of oil, eggs and measuring spoons. Then each of us was kneading dough in our own bowls. Separate but together, we were bringing forth this bread for Shabbat.
One of the three designated mitzvot for a woman is to separate a small piece of challah in memory of the Temple days in Jerusalem, when the piece was given to the Kohanim.
In order to say the blessing and tear off the piece of challah, we needed about 15 cups, but each of us had used only 3½ cups. So four of the women at my table, two of whom I had never met, placed their rounded balls of challah dough in the bowl touching mine. I said the bracha. They said amen.
Then I pulled off the piece and said we had to burn it.
“I’m good at that,” said Robyn, one of my new friends. We all laughed as I gave her the piece of challah to burn in her oven at home. Some of the women braided their challah. Others took it home to braid.
Before leaving, Robyn, holding her bowl of challah dough, handed me her card and said that she really enjoyed the evening. I told her that I enjoyed meeting her and asked her where she goes to services. She said that she used to belong to a temple; now she is unaffiliated.
But on this night of the Great Big Challah Bake, she and 600 other women in that room became affiliated with one another — Jewish sisters making challah in Atlanta, Ga.