Detroiters join in worldwide Sabbath observance, including Great Big Challah Bake.
The Great Big Challah Bake on Thursday, Oct. 23, was the opening local event of the 2014 Shabbos Project, a global effort designed to bring Jews all over the world together in celebrating the Sabbath.
Oblong tables covered with blue plastic tablecloths fanned out across the banquet hall at Shriner’s Silver Garden Event Center, the former sanctuary of Congregation B’nai David in Southfield.
On each table were 14 large foil roasting pans, each containing everything needed to make two large loaves of challah: a two-pound sack of flour, a 16-oz. bottle of water, two eggs (and a plastic cup to crack them into) and small plastic containers of yeast, sugar, salt and oil.
Each pan also held rubber gloves, a mixing spoon, a large plastic mixing bowl, a recipe card and an apron emblazoned with the name of the event.
More than 300 women from across the religious spectrum attended. Together they mixed and shaped loaves of challah, which they took home to bake.
The event was free. Materials were provided by anonymous donors.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to carry out an enriching and fulfilling Jewish tradition,” said Laurie Dean-Amir of Huntington Woods. She said she’s made challah before for special occasions but wants to do it more regularly. “I thought this would inspire me.”
Cindy Starman of West Bloomfield was planning to spend Shabbat with a childhood friend, Chana Sherizen of Oak Park. They attended the challah bake together.
Sherizen, now Orthodox, recalled how she grew up in a Reform home celebrating only one day each Jewish holiday. She regularly spent the second day with Starman’s Conservative family.
Rachel Schey of Birmingham was also with a friend, Lisa Feber of Huntington Woods.
“I’m excited to learn how to bake challah,” Schey said. She planned to celebrate the Sabbath with her family: her fiance, Mark McLain, and her bulldog, Sugar. Shabbat is a good time to unwind and relax at the end of the week, said Schey, who is not religious.
Volunteers started setting up the tables and measuring out the ingredients at 9:30 a.m. The challah bake started at 7:30 p.m.
From a podium at the front of the hall, Henna Millburn of Southfield and her sister-in-law, Estie Tolwin of Huntington Woods, talked about the traditions involved in baking challah.
The term “challah” actually refers to a portion of the dough that was taken out and burned, a commandment that dates to Temple times, Millburn said. At the Great Big Challah Bake, table hostesses collected the small lumps of separated dough, wrapped them in foil and placed them in a plastic bag for disposal, an alternative to burning.
Baking challah is a “labor of love” that brings women together, Millburn said. “What binds us is not the ingredients; it is the Torah we share as Jews,” she said. Before every step of the recipe, Millburn offered a blessing.
Women dubbed “challah doctors” wore “Knead Help?” badges and wandered among the tables offering advice as newbies mixed their dough.
“I make challah every week,” said Barb Pichette of Southfield. “When I registered, they asked me if I knew what I’m doing, and when I said I did, they gave me this badge.”
As hundreds of hands kneaded mounds of dough, Millburn demonstrated how to form three, four or more strands into braided loaves.
As they left with their challah dough, each woman received a plastic “Shabbox” containing everything else they’d need to bring in the Sabbath: a small bottle of grape juice and a disposable Kiddush cup, a pair of small candles, a book of matches and several booklets about Shabbat. There was even a tiny vial of spices for Havdalah to mark the end of the day.
Bayla Hochheiser-Berman of Oak Park, one of the Detroit Shabbos Project organizers, was thrilled with the turnout and enthusiasm.
“I never realized how much work goes into a two-hour event,” she said. “I was constantly worried that something would go wrong.
“When everything went so smoothly, and people kept commenting on what a wonderful evening it was and saying they can’t wait for next year, I realized that it’s not about the hard work you put into it, it’s about the effect it has on people that’s so much more important than anything else.”
The Great Big Challah Bake’s Challah Recipe
This recipe will make two very large challahs, three medium loaves or four small loaves.
1 Tbs. yeast
½ cup sugar
2 cups water
½ Tbs. salt
½ cup oil
2 eggs (plus another one for brushing
on top of challahs)
2 lb. flour
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in lukewarm water. Allow to sit 10 minutes until mixture becomes frothy. Add yeast and remaining ingredients, mixing and kneading until a dough forms. Allow to rise 30 minutes in a covered bowl.
Form challahs. Allow to rise for 30 minutes. Brush with beaten egg. Bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 30 minutes, depending on size.
By Barbara Lewis, Contributing Writer