It’s rare that a religious event is truly cross-denominational. Sometimes we do see collaborations between synagogues; but more often, each religious organization runs events for its own community reflecting its individual outlook and philosophy. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are different interpretations of religious rituals, and it’s hard to be inclusive of the entire spectrum, as much as each individual Jewish movement strives to do so.
That’s what made the Great Big Challah Bake unique: it was an event focused on a religious ritual, and yet, everyone was there. Religious affiliation? Didn’t matter. Synagogue membership? Who cares. Are you a Jewish woman? Great, you’re invited. The energy in the room was tangible. Part of it was the efficiency behind the whole evening. At each seat, a kit awaited each participant: a pink apron, bowl, ingredients handily measured; a visual guide to braiding challot; a recipe. And the energy of 500+ women — mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, friends — has unstoppable energy in and of itself.
Everyone got stuck right into it, following along with the emceed instructions, or just asking their tablemates. There wasn’t any of the ubiquitous competition that comes with trading recipes: We were all following the same one. Sounds minimal, but it actually contributed to that unifying feel. As did the event’s association with the Shabbos Project, a global movement to bring Jewish people closer to the Shabbat experience.
That same night, there were challah bakes in London, Manchester, New York. The Twitter hashtag #KneadingItTogether embodied the spirit of the worldwide event. By participating, we were reaching out even beyond all boundaries of our own plethora of communities, but also to our global Jewish community. An absolutely rousing round of music and dancing at the conclusion of the evening created the perfect outlet for the emotions of the night. We all knew we had been part of something special.
The bake, however, didn’t end there; in fact the actual bake took place in each woman’s home. We took our risen and shaped challot home, and when we baked them in our ovens, our homes filled with that “Shabbat is coming” fresh-bread smell. The spirit of camaraderie traveled with us, knowing that each of the 500 challah bakers was sharing the same experience.
We’re looking forward to next year!