1,000 women knead spirituality into baking

1,000 women knead spirituality into baking

Mega Challah Bake draws crowd from various backgrounds

Chani Shapiro leads the group in preparing a basic hallah recipe.
Chani Shapiro leads the group in preparing a basic hallah recipe.

The take-home message at the second annual Mega Challah Bake — an Aug. 4 activity in Long Branch that was attended by nearly 1,000 women from varied backgrounds — was that the traditional Shabbat and holiday bread is about more than food. Speakers repeatedly emphasized its deeper spiritual meaning, including its connections to sustenance, hospitality, community, charity, parental responsibility, and obligations to God.

“The key to life is balance seeing the divine and the divine blessing in all gifts that come our way each day,” said keynoter Chana Weisberg, editor of TheJewishWoman.org, a web-based publication produced by Chabad.org.

When a mother allows her young children to help in the kitchen — particularly in the baking of hallah before Shabbat — it may mean double work for Mom, including tidying up the mess created by inexperienced hands, said Weisberg.

But the payoff comes in “the pleasure of forging and strengthening our special relationship” with the youngsters, she said.

Noting that women “regularly deal with the physical aspects of life,” she made an impassioned pitch for her listeners to never lose sight of intangibles like faith that give meaning to life and help establish a bond with God.

During the all-morning Mega Challah Bake, which took place at the Ocean Place Resort and Spa, the multitude of attendees occupied 79 tables. In front of each chair was a mixing bowl, a packet of ingredients, and a tote bag filled with such goodies as a book of spiritual readings, a Shabbat candle-lighting kit, an apron, disposable aluminum baking pans, and more.

Calling the event a “tremendous success,” Rabbi Laibel Schapiro, director of Chabad of the Shore, told NJJN, “We had to put together and distribute about 15,000 items for the Challah Bake. We had to register nearly 1,000 participants, and we did it with not more than a dozen volunteers. Yet everything ran smoothly, and there was palpable energy in the room. It was a truly moving and inspiring experience.”

Attendees evidently agreed. As the preparation phase drew to a close, giddy laughter was heard everywhere in the large ballroom. One woman jumped up and down with glee, her loaf in her hands. Another balanced her 13-month-old daughter in her lap as she attempted to shape and braid her hallah. At another table, a grandmother watched as her three-year-old granddaughter enthusiastically rolled the dough into cylinders.

Brooklyn resident Joyce Haddad, who is spending the summer in Oakhurst, attended with members of her family. Sarah Azar of Deal said she’d never baked a hallah in her life, but had such a good time that the event could prove “life-changing. I just felt good inside.” 

Schapiro and his associate, Rabbi Yaakov Greenberg, were the behind-the-scenes leaders of the event, while their wives, Chani Schapiro and Rivkie Greenberg, were front-and-center, addressing the audience and demonstrating hallah preparation.

Given the size of the turnout, which, Rabbi Schapiro said, made it “the largest gathering of Jewish women in the state,” a little hyperbole in the name Challah Bake could be forgiven. 

In fact, no baking took place on premises; it would have been virtually impossible to commandeer enough ovens to handle over 900 loaves at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. So participants were asked to place the kneaded and braided dough in the disposable pans and take them home for the final step in the process. 

In addition to Chabad of the Shore, cosponsors were the Charles & Brenda Saka DSN Community Center and Harry & Ruby Franco Building; Hadassah of Ocean Township; Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey; JCC of the Jersey Shore; and Sephardic Bikur Holim. There were also 48 sponsorships from private individuals.

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