Women come together for Great Challah Bake

Women come together for Great Challah Bake

The three Genek sisters — from left, Samara, 12, Dina, eight, and Becky, 13 — came to learn the mitzva of making hallah. 
The three Genek sisters — from left, Samara, 12, Dina, eight, and Becky, 13 — came to learn the mitzva of making hallah. 

With many dozens of eggs, pounds of flour, and quarts of oil, about 220 women gathered together to make hallah, dance, and share memories of a summer trip to Israel. 

The Oct. 21 Great Challah Bake held at the Windsor Athletic Club in West Windsor was organized by L’Dor V’Dor of Central New Jersey, which provides Jewish programs and education to the greater Princeton area, and the Shalom Heritage Center of East Windsor, which offers classes and activities for Jews of all backgrounds.

The event was part of the Shabbat Project, a grassroots global initiative begun in South Africa to generate unity in the Jewish community. Each of the participants took their unbaked hallah home to bake and was asked to return with it and their families for a community Shabbat dinner that Friday.

The women were all participants on a nine-day July trip to Israel through the Jewish Renaissance Project — with which L’Dor V’Dor partners on central NJ missions to Israel — and ran the gamut from secular to observant. 

“If you think about it, hallah is the perfect metaphor for Jewish community,” said Amy Solomon of East Windsor, who brought along her 16-year-old daughter, Carly, and her mother, Eunice Watstein of Connecticut. “Separate and distinct pieces of dough are woven together — sometimes in very complex configurations — to create one perfect loaf.”

Solomon included her family so they could experience “the same feeling I had in Israel with these women,” adding that much like hallah, the local Jewish community may “come from different places, but together, we make something bigger than each of us.”

Carly said she was persuaded to come not only because she likes to bake but because she feels “it’s really special to connect with previous generations who can’t be here with us.”

That idea of continuity was stressed by Dr. Jill Schwartz-Chevlin of West Windsor, one of four event organizers. She told the gathering that making hallah provided “a connection to our grandparents and great-grandparents.” 

She reminded the women they could pray for anything they wanted while kneading, rolling, braiding, and shaping the dough, including family members and “our brothers and sisters in Israel.”

The women lit battery-operated yahrtzeit candles and silently thought of lost loved ones as the room was darkened. Later they danced around the room, including performing a spontaneous limbo under an Israeli flag.

Hadas Rosenthal of East Windsor said she came to share with other women “what I go through every Friday morning” with her children. 

“It helps you get mentally ready for Shabbat,” she said.

The Genek sisters of East Windsor — Becky, 13, Samara, 12, and Dina, eight — came “to do a mitzva,” said Dina, while Samara said she was excited to learn a new recipe.

Event organizer Mary Pleeter of Belle Mead, founder of L’Dor V’Dor, said it was important to bring together area Jews of diverse backgrounds as a united community.

“There are too many things that keep Jews apart,” she said. “It’s time to come together as a family and forget all the things that make us different. Our desire is to be community together. No matter how you daven, no matter how you dress, it doesn’t matter to us.”

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