The Friday the Rabbi Made Challah

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.

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