Growing up, my family was not particularly religious. I learned Hebrew from a private tutor, alongside the children of a couple family friends, but only stepped foot in a synagogue once or twice throughout my childhood. My family was part of a group of similarly-minded Jewish families that would gather in a church basement on high holidays and celebrate together, sans rabbi, children chasing each other down the thinly carpeted halls and across the linoleum floors. My bar mitzvah was held in a rented hall, and the catered food was perhaps not kosher.
Nonetheless, Friday nights often found us at home, around our dining room table celebrating Shabbat, considered by many to be the most important of the Jewish holidays. Because of the injunction against any form of work starting at sundown, “welcoming Queen Shabbat” is a rare opportunity to slow down, reflect and be. If the phone rings, you don’t answer it. There’s no rushing off to do homework or get a jump on tomorrow’s tasks, just family and the prayers and rituals of the evening: the lighting of the candles, the blessing over the wine and finally the blessing over the bread, which is passed around the table to be torn and eaten by each family member: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, Hamotzi lechem min haaretz, blessed art thou, Oh Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen.
The bread of shabbat is challah, a soft, slightly sweet bread made with egg, white flour, salt, sugar and yeast. It is braided and baked to golden brown and ideally served hot. To me, it tastes like family.
If you’d like to try your hand at making challah yourself, show up this Wednesday at the Wallingford Farmers Market in Meridian Park (3:30 pm – 7 pm), where Chabad NW Seattle will be giving an ongoing demonstration on how to braid a traditional challah. They’ll have the recipe for making the dough, and you’re invite to braid your own mini challah to take home and bake.
Todah rabah to Rabbi Yoni Levitin for the tip!