It was an event that brought Jewish women from throughout central New Jersey together to enjoy some camaraderie, perform a mitzva, and just have fun.
The 365 women and girls who participated in the “Mega Challah Bake” Jan. 22 at the Radisson Hotel in Freehold were each provided with premeasured flour and other ingredients, a large silver mixing bowl, utensils, and cloth to drape over the bowl while the dough rose.
In between the mixing, kneading, and braiding of the loaves, the women sang and heard explanations of the laws, traditions, and spiritual benefits associated with making and eating the special bread served on Shabbat and holidays.
The event was jointly hosted by the Chabad of Western Monmouth County and its Friendship Circle of Central Jersey as well as other area Chabad Houses.
Friendship Circle director Chana’le Wolosow told the crowd, which ranged from little girls who came with their mothers to older women, that she could “feel the good energy” in the room and reminded the crowd, “If you make hallah, your family will love you for it…. Women are the foundation of the entire world.”
“When I make hallah, usually on Thursday afternoon, I think of the thousands of women all over the globe who are making it at the same time,” said Wolosow, noting that because making hallah is specifically a woman’s mitzva, all channels are open to ask for blessings for herself and loved ones.
Friendship Circle volunteer coordinator Moushkie Volovik explained the spiritual significance of the seven ingredients in hallah: yeast, representing Jewish pride; sugar, sweetness; water, light; eggs, renewal of life’s potential; flour, sustenance; and salt, which stands for rebuke or criticism because in both cases, “You should use only a little bit.”
Tova Chazanow, codirector of the WMC Chabad, noted that in the Book of Exodus, now being read during synagogue services, it is written that the Israelites were freed “because of the merit of their righteous women.”
The participants, who got to take their prepared loaves home to bake, came for a variety of reasons.
Hannah Friedman, 19, of East Brunswick said that after a friend asked her to attend, she thought, “Cool, I haven’t baked hallah in a really long time. I just saw an opportunity.”
Terry Stein of Freehold, who was baking hallah for the third time, said a friend of hers had been so inspired by learning to bake the bread, she now bakes about seven loaves a week to serve to a large Shabbat gathering.
Terry Gross came with her two adult daughters, Beth Katznelson and Farrah Maliavsky, all from Manalapan. Gross recalled hearing her own grandmother talk about making hallah every week in her native Poland, preparing the loaves at home and bringing them to a central oven in town to bake.
“I also have three granddaughters so I’ll now be able to pass the tradition on to them,” said Gross. “Wait until I tell my mother. She’ll be so excited.”