Braiding Jewish Communities Together | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Braiding Jewish Communities Together

Braiding Jewish Communities Together

Photos Courtesy of UJA-Federation of New York

NY Jews gather at nine challah-making events

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On Superbowl Sunday more than 1,000 children from various denominations in grades K-8 came to the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan from across the New York Jewish community to mix flour, water, eggs, and yeast at the annual Mega Kids Challah Bake. Each child made a challah for his or herself and an additional loaf for the women and children of Win homeless shelters. 

In nine challah-making workshops funded by the UJA as part of its CommUnity Shabbat initiative in February (plus another 10 this past November), Jews from all backgrounds, ranging from secular to Chabad and traditional Orthodox, (and notably from both genders,) gathered in synagogues and community spaces to knead and braid dough to make the traditional bread for Shabbat. While challah dough was made at all of the workshops, each program was tailored to the segments of the Jewish community it was for. 

In Queens, Hillcrest Jewish Center hosted bakers from Young Israel of Jamaica Estates and The Solomon Schechter School of Queens in a coming-together of Orthodox and Conservative Jews; in Plainview, mothers and daughters from seven local groups kneaded en masse at the Mid-Island Y; in Brighton Beach, women of Russian descent in their 20s and 30s baked challahs at the RAJE center on Ocean Parkway; while in Crown Heights, local hipsters in their 20s and 30s traipsed through the snow to make “artisanal” challah while a DJ played music in the background and folks ate "cholov Yisrael" snacks to appeal to the Chabad-affiliated attendees.

Over in Canarsie, over 180 grandmothers, mothers, and daughters of Russian and Bukharian backgrounds prepared challah together at a program that began with the organizers dimming the lights and lighting candles to practice the blessings to bring in Shabbat since many of the women who participated do not celebrate Shabbat on their own. In addition to the Shabbat eve simulation, participants had the opportunity to listen to Tzivi Kay, a renowned Bukharian folk singer. 

The Chabad centers of Kensington and Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, joined with members of Beth HaKnesseth Ohr HaMizrach Gorsky Kavkazi Jews of NY, which is the community of Jews from the Caucus mountain region, and baked both challah and churek, the traditional Kavkazi bread. 

"Nine of these events brought together more than 1,700 people of different backgrounds from across the Jewish community to share in the ancient practice of baking challah," said Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York.

Two of the programs focused on outreach to gay Jews. The Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center, in conjunction with Dix Hills Jewish Center, North Shore Jewish Center, Temple Isaiah, PFLAG LI, and jGAY, brought 150 people together to make challah and to increase LGBT visibility in the Long Island Jewish community.

At Congregation Bet Simchat Torah, Manhattan’s historic gay synagogue, more than 40 young adults between the ages of 13 and 23 who identify as LGBTQ and allies made rainbow-colored loaves. “At the end of the night there were over a handful of beautiful rainbow challahs that could not be taken home because our members felt that their parents would not approve,” noted Mordechai Levovitz, Executive Director, JQY, a social group for LGBT people from traditional Jewish backgrounds.

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