If the idea of plunging both hands into a yeasty mound of risen challah dough sounds grounding, generative and gleeful, you are not alone.
On Thursday, Nov. 14, an estimated half a million Jewish women and girls will gather in 1,511 cities in 101 countries to connect in a tactile way to a mainstay of home Shabbos observance — challah making.
Shabbat Project Arizona is coordinating the local event and will provide recipes, ingredients and everything necessary to make the “holy dough” in an atmosphere of sisterly encouragement — a little bit messy and a whole lot of fun. What gets stirred in is not just floury foodstuffs, according to event organizer Robin Meyerson, but values.
“The sugar represents sweetness and warmth, the yeast is a reminder to build up your family’s self-esteem, the water is for Torah, flour equates to hard work, the salt is a dash of criticism to keep your family on the right path and the oil anoints family members,” Meyerson explained.
This year’s Challah Bake has been designated as “Pink” to bring awareness to the genetic challenges Ashkenazi Jews face regarding breast cancer—one in 40 have the gene mutations that indicate a predisposition. Consequently, it’s designed to be more intimate than past years, to create a space where attendees feel comfortable to share.
“When you make challah, there’s a spiritual component where we pray for the health of others,” Meyerson explained. “We’re going to dim the lights, and say those blessings together.”
Local providers of BRCA testing who screen for Breast Cancer Gene mutation will be on site to provide information on genetic counseling and do on-the-spot testing during the dessert reception beginning at 5 p.m.
“The Challah Bake is a loving, warm and beautiful environment,” said Wendy Carriere of the Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics. “People bring their children, mothers and grandmothers. We’ll be honoring Shabbat, honoring our bodies, and getting as informed as possible about our genetics.”
Testing only takes a few moments and is accomplished either by collecting a little saliva in a tube (if you haven’t had anything to eat or drink for a half an hour) or phlebotomists will be there to draw blood. There’s no cost to pre-register at jewishgeneticsaz.org, and doing so will help streamline the testing at the event; it’s brief and there are details about the (nominal) cost for those without medical insurance.
“You can expect a phone call from a genetic counselor within three to four weeks who’ll explain your results,” Carriere explained. “Please remember to bring your insurance card, but nobody will be left behind because of lack of funds.”
Kosher, pareve desserts, some pink in color, some gluten-free, sourced from milk+honey will be provided, as well as fruit and soft beverages. There will be informational tabling by the cosponsoring organizations (listed below) and a Shabbos shuk with art and Judaica for sale.
At 6 p.m., the main event will open with videos about the aims of the Worldwide Shabbos Project followed by a brief partnered learning session focused on teachings from the Gemara about Shabbos candle lighting. It’ll be led by Cindy Landesman of Phoenix Community Kollel, whose mission is to “build Jewish identity through Torah,” and facilitated by 30 students from Shearim Girls High School.
For Meyerson, the learning-together aspect is one of the most important components of the Challah Bake and a large part of the motivation for her personal participation.
“I did not grow up with any Shabbos whatsoever,” she said. “I didn’t know about keeping kosher, lighting candles, making challah or anything. I learned about it in my 30s. Now, I love Shabbat, a day that forces us to unplug, breathe and connect with G-d, and I want to share it.”
With the teachings freshly sprinkled in everyone’s mind like a dusting of flour on a baker’s table, participants will get busy mixing and kneading. While waiting for the yeast to activate the dough, acclaimed Brooklyn singer, Malky Giniger, will inspire the assembly in her Arizona debut performance.
A mother of ten, Giniger has been performing songs in English, Yiddish and Hebrew since she was eight. Descended from the Modzitzer Rebbe, she’s founder and director of Ratzon, a music, dance and arts program for girls.
“She has a fabulous reputation,” Meyerson said. “She was highly recommended by several people. They told me, ‘ya gotta get Malky, her enthusiasm pumps up the crowd!’”
After the singing, dancing and gift raffles, participants will braid their dough. The funny part about the Challah Bake is there’s no actual baking.
“We want people to bake it in their own house and experience the aroma of Shabbos at home,” Meyerson explained. “It’s the most beautiful perfume.” JN
The Great Arizona Challah Bake will be on Thursday, Nov. 14, 5-8 p.m., at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus, 12701 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. Women are $36, girls (5 and up) are $10. Order tickets at shabbatprojectaz.org. Call Robin Meyerson at 602-469-1606 for more information. The bake is sponsored by the National Jewish Education Foundation, Project Inspire Arizona, Myriad Women’s Health, Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics, Little Egg Publishing, Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, Judaica Central and Jewish News.