By JAYNE JACOVA FELD
It’s never too late to make Shabbat challah for the first time.
For Leah Goldman, 81, the mitzvah moment was all the more memorable as a shared experience, both with her daughter Judi Weinberg and granddaughter Stephanie Riviello and her larger family: Some 600 Jewish women gathered together at Lucien’s Manor House in Berlin for South Jersey Mega Challah Bake 600.
“When we moved my mom (here) from Massachusetts two months ago, we were so excited to bring her to make challah,” explained Weinberg, a Cong. M’kor Shalom preschool teacher about the March 2 event sponsored by Chabad of Camden and Burlington Counties. “It was a fabulous experience full of love!”
This is the scene: An elegant catering hall chosen for its immense ballroom. Aprons were draped the chairs like seat covers. Mixing bowls and measured-out ingredients were set before each chair. With 12 chairs surrounding 50 round tables, there was enough flour, salt, egg and yeast to make at least 1,200 challahs (two each). One could definitely feel the ruach in the air.
For Betsy Fischer, the new president of the Jewish National Fund, the Mega Bake was her first. Right away, she understood what draws women, young and old and from diverse Jewish backgrounds, to the collective pre-Shabbat ritual.
“When I look out I see all of you — 600 intelligent, smart, beautiful, strong Jewish women — I’m blown away,” said Fischer during opening remarks. “Oprah Winfrey would call it a divine moment. I am feeling the power of Jewish sisterhood.”
With ingredients all prepared beforehand by volunteers, challah making was fairly straightforward. The most technical part was the braiding and there were volunteers floating around the room to help out. The simplicity of the recipe – passed on from generation to generation – is part of the power and beauty, remarked organizer Dinie Mangel, an educator who is the wife of Chabad Rabbi Mendel “Mendy” Mangel
“What if our matriarch Sarah, our collective Jewish mother, would come join us tonight,” Mangel asked. “She might be puzzled by the large screens, by the lit chandeliers, by the running cell phones at almost every seat tonight. But then she would look around the room and see the dough, the same blessing being recited for thousands of years and scores of women bringing further meaning to their lives, each of our souls aspiring to be closer to G-d and to each other. And, perhaps, she would break into a big smile and feel right at home.”
As Cherry Hill resident Paula Goldberg and her 11-year-old daughter Natalie put finishing seasoning onto her dough, Goldberg explained the draw of the Mega bake.
“I love the gathering of the women and the camaraderie of us all making challah together,” she said. “I loved sharing this with my daughter for the first time.”
Mangel noted that the event sold out quickly and some women had to be turned away. So for next year Chabad is exploring the possibility of finding an even larger hall for the annual event.
“It’s a testament to the fact that the community really likes this type thing,” said Mangel. “Jewish women just have such a power coming together.”