A couple of years ago, I attended a young adult challah-baking event here in Austin. Some of the young women who were there that evening turned to me, a female rabbi, and wanted to know my challah-baking secrets.
“The truth is” I confessed, “I never bake challah.”
“REALLY?” They said with great surprise.
It occurred to me that we would never presume that male rabbis were baking challah, but somehow as a female rabbi, people had the expectation that I at least had some experience with this craft. But when would I find time for such things? Thursday and Friday are consumed with meetings and preparation for Shabbat at the synagogue. Where could I find time – and energy — for challah baking?
I often joke with my husband, who is also a rabbi, that the old adage – “the shoemaker’s children have no shoes”– rings true in our household. We have two children, and although both of them claim to love to bake challah (they’ve had such experiences with their grandmothers and at school) they have never baked challah with their mom. One thoughtful stay-at-home mom in my congregation recently offered to have my kids over for a challah baking party with her family, since clearly I didn’t have the time to create such opportunities for my own children.
This past Friday, somehow this all changed. Don’t get me wrong – my day was plenty busy. In fact, I was in meetings from 9:00AM – 5:30PM, straight. Yet, this past Friday I had the incredible urge to bake challah. Maybe it was all of this recent talk in the media about work-life balance that put me over the edge. Or maybe it was just the reality that, although Austin is known for many amazing and wonderful things, excellent store-bought Kosher challah is not one of them. Whatever it was, I arrived home at 5:40PM and said “We’re making challah!”
My husband’s first response – “Have you seen Rabbah Sara Hurwitz’s article in the Jewish Journal? She just made challah for the first time as well.” I had not seen the article, and didn’t have time to read it until after Shabbat. (I had to make my challah, after all.) But something must be in the air. Challah-less female rabbis from across the movements are suddenly baking challah.
I had very little time before candle lighting at 8:17PM. After finding a fairly simple recipe on the internet, buying and mixing the ingredients and then kneading the dough with the kids, we realized that we really only had about five minutes of rise-time. Miraculously, what we created was far from matzah – I would never have known from the finished product that we hadn’t had time to let our dough rise.
So how was it? It was pretty good. Not the best challah I’ve ever tasted, but a good first try. And the kids had a blast, taking great pride in their creations. I think we may have begun a weekly challah baking ritual.
And maybe the next time this female rabbi shows up at a challah-baking event, she will have a thing or two to share.
This week has been a heavy one for the Jewish people and an indescribably difficult one for the parents of young Ayelet Galena zt”l who left this world Monday morning. Ayelet was two years old and was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disorder called dyskeratosis congenita.
Ayelet’s struggle for life became everyone’s struggle. Her parents utilizing social media, particularly Facebook, updated her close to 6,000 “fans” on a regular basis. The images of little Ayelet simultaneously exhibiting so much will to life and yet so much suffering and pain, united thousands of people to do something. Many people prayed for her daily; others baked challah in her merit, while others re-posted the updates from her parents to their social circles often, thereby expanding the circle of support and care by leaps and bounds.
The loss of Ayelet is not just the loss of one beautiful little girl. It is not just the loss of the potential for her life and all that she might have accomplished. It is both of those things but also so much more. The Mishnah in Tractate Sanhedrin teaches us that the loss of a single life is as if an entire world was lost forever. There are generations of descendants from Ayelet the world will never know. There are countless people who would have been touched by her life who will not have that experience. In chaos theory there exists a concept called the butterfly effect in which one small change can bring about tremendous results that would be impossible to anticipate. The loss of Ayelet is not just a small change to the world, it is an enormous change, and the impact that she would have brought to her family, her people and the rest of humanity, will never be known.
Yet, the Mishnah also teaches us the converse as well. One who saves a life is as if she or he saved the entire world. And there is no doubt that the heart wrenching struggle for life waged by Ayelet and her family, broadcast to the world has brought about so much good. One often wonders how much they can truly impact the world. What difference can I really have in a global community of over seven billion people? The story of Ayelet is the loudest protest possible against the proposition that our lives do not and cannot matter. Each one of us can make such a tremendous difference.
Of all the actions that occurred to express support with Ayelet and her family, perhaps the most impactful of them all was the organization of countless cheek swabbing drives to add people to the bone marrow registry of Gift of Life and the also important fundraising drives for Gift of Life. Because of those cheek swabbing drives, when Ayelet tragically left this world on Monday morning, 21 people had found their lives saved through the bone marrow registry and the registration of all those new people. Twenty one people in this world owe their lives to the good will of complete strangers who were inspired at the very deepest levels to act because of Ayelet Galena zt”l. In other words, because of Ayelet there now exists another twenty one worlds of human life and meaning.
This is the impact of one person. One two year old child was able to galvanize people to give of themselves and restore life to another twenty one people. If we learn anything from the tragedy of the loss of Ayelet let it be two ideas: 1) Donate to Gift of Life and register with Gift of Life. Each registration to the list costs money; the more people who are registered the greater chance that another human being can live another day and if you have not done so already, take that simple cheek swab and become part of the registry. 2) Anytime you feel your life does not matter, anytime you are confident that the world would be no worse or better with or without you, remember Ayelet. The struggle of one small child restored life to twenty one people. Ponder and reflect on that because you never know how and in what way you will make that difference.