For the last two years Tel Aviv’s Shabbat Project proceedings have gathered thousands of young people for a shot at at “Keeping It Together”. In a recent interview featured in Huffpost with it’s founder South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein called” 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started The Shabbat Project”, the Tel Aviv Challah Bake was featured as “The Power of A People’s Movement”. Goldstein goes on to say, “The second thing that has been so eye opening about the Shabbat Project is how its message has resonated in the modern world,”. In 2015, we presented some of the world’s leading speakers like Rebbitzen Yemima Mizrachi and JWRP’s Lori Palatnik to over 2,000 women and last year we welcomed Shaindel Antelis as supreme songstress. This year however, Tel Aviv’s Great Challah Bake almost didn’t happen.
There was no official funding for any Tel Aviv Shabbat Project activity and all the usual suspects were too burnt out from the chagim to host. But in solidarity with women around the world making challah on October 26, 2017, I wanted to plug into that powerful energy. I couldn’t let the city go without a fight and I bet at least 50 righteous babes would bake with me.
The first guest on my list was Tamar Levinsohn Areneta, one of the point people at the Ichud Olam Community Center. 86 had hosted bakes in the past and had the most beautiful hall of all on Ben Yehuda. On October 12 I talked to Tamar and she thought I was nuts for taking on this complex a project without backing and under two weeks to go. But I knew the tremendous effects that even a small event could have on shaping the culture of a community. Last year Hineni Israel’s Challah Bake hosted over 400 women who were clearly interested in kosher cooking classes. In order the keep sparks going throughout the year, a handful of us launched a Rosh Chodesh learning series, in honor of Rebbitzen Jungreis’ blessed memory, to serve the Tel Aviv olim community. Mind, Body & Soul Food attracted approximately 30 women a month for workshops which included learning words of wisdom, movement and cooking classes to nourish the Jewish soul. If Icud Olam donated the space as a chesed, I bet we could get 50 girls to come to shul. I imagined it would cost 3,000 shek to make 100 challahs, which would either empower 50 women to make two challahs each, or 100 women to make one challah. Tamar was in, and I davined to Hashem to let the games begin.
Just before sunset on Shabbat Parsha Bereishit, I got an urgent facebook message from my friend Cindie Klein.
Esti Stahler asked if you could come by…just saw her and was running..She needs like 36-50 challah rolls. Can you help her?”
Now I had just been a guest at Esti’s exquisite David’s Village apartment in Jerusalem for Succot, and knew the Stahlers well from their open home in The 5 Towns of New York. Esti loved hosting soldiers and singles, and since I had made aliyah, I had offered to pick up anything they might need for second days. Apparently now, Esti didn’t have challahs for Shabbat and had no way of using the phone or going shopping. It was a chesed emergency.
But I was in Eliat , how could I possibly save Shabbat? I prayed for a way, and miraculously thought of Raizy Kay. She was a great girl from New York who lived in Tel Aviv too. I messaged her on facebook in the slight chance she was in Jerusalem? Unbelievably she was in the shuk, and I convinced her to drop of 50 challas to the Stahlers.
Motzei Shabbat I checked with Esti to see if got my secret chesed. “That was you?” she joked, ” We couldn’t figure out how it happened, we thought maybe the angels of Shabbos came. How much do we owe you for the challah?” Esti said opening her purse. “Well,” I grinned, ” I couldn’t possibly take money for the challahs Esti, they were a gift. You’ve hosted me so many times. But if you want to do a chesed, meet me in Tel Aviv next Thursday. I bet we could get 50 girls to bake challahs for Parsha Lech Lecha.
With a hall and a co-host in play, I sat down to make a shopping list. For the first time I started getting nervous. I no idea how many kilos of flour, sugar, oil and eggs I’d need to make 100 challahs. I really wasn’t a great bakers, I was more of a ra-ra girl. I reached out to two of the best challah makers and moms I knew to ask for advice. Both Elisa Givertz and Rebbitzen Sara Naditch from Chabad on the Coast, were super supportive and came shopping with me. We used South Africa’s suggested recipe.
I roll with the Rebbe! It was a miracle we fit two shopping carts full of stuff plus Chabad on the Coast kiddush into the Naditch car.
With the space and supplies in stride it was time to publicize. I asked Jay Shultz to please invite back last year’s challah bake girls and White City Shabbat’s Paul Berkowitz stepped up as the ultimate street team. Over a couple bottles of wine, I convinced a few friends of mine to blast out Flower Power Tel Aviv on tons of Facebook groups.
Now it was time to decorate the space. I approached the seminary school which held classes on the top floor of 86 to see if they’d send a team of chesed girls to help set up. A squad of teens came and hung flowers from the mechitzas while dancing and cutting table clothes to match the posters where which designed by the Official Shabbat Project organizers and printed by דפוס השלמה as a chesed.
We had no idea exactly how many girls would come, but prepared baking stations where 6 girls could work together at a table to make dough. Recipe cards were carefully placed in the centerpiece and I dashed over to the 126 Ben Yehuda synagogue, to grab some extra water jugs and kitchen supplies. Before locking up, I tip toed to the Torah, gave it a kiss, and took on a very special promise.
Soon the first guests arrived, and were just as excited as me to bake bread. Some faces looked familiar from the Friday night at Frishman , and others I had invited at after the Shachris kiddush at 126. Even a pack of Persian ladies added their zest to the fiesta. Tables began teaming up and reading the recipe.
Girls from every generation and nation gathered around the table and connected with the spirit of thousands of women from 1,150 cities and 95 countries all baking Challah at the same time.
After everything was mixed it was time to wait for dough to rise. Devorah Esienbach, founder of the AISH Jewel program and my first Rebbitzen from Jerusalem shared ideas connecting modern world views with traditional Torah values, and the importance of having an attitude of gratitude. Mamie Jakob Gabay spoke about her inspirigng friend Rafael Halevi ben Yocheved, and asked us all to pray for his health. One by one girls stood up and added names. The room was filled with love, prayers, laughter and tears. Just outside offering tea and company were two shadchanim from Yismach in case anyone wanted to check out shidduchim online.
Olga Sibony heard about Flour Power Tel Aviv from Facebook. ” I never baked challah bread before, so it was an exciting experience for me. My favorite parts was the spirit of that evening and interacting with all the lovely ladies. The hosts were amazing and I loved singing and dancing. Not only did I make a couple of challahs, I made couple of friends!”
It was just as Rav Goldstein had said, “The Shabbat Project is not a top down bureaucratic organisation – it’s a movement of the people; a grassroots initiative driven by thousands and thousands of people throughout the world who have taken on the project and owned it and made it their own; who connect with its ideas and objectives, and feel a sense of responsibility for bringing it to their communities and bringing it to life.”
Just before the braiding the challah it was time to get up and sing. Stevie Wonder’s “Flower Power” boomed from the speakers and the excitement was electric. Esti grabbed a stick and made a chain of girls to play limbo. I was worried the crowd would think it was too childish but sure enough, everyone began dancing around the room and even the game’s biggest hater became the loudest player.
Mothers and daughters came to continue a tradition passed down from our matriarchs. I looked around the room and while there may not have been hundreds of women this years, 50 women baked challah who might otherwise have not done so. I for sure I would not have made challah if it hadn’t been for The Shabbat Project, and sometimes all it takes is one inspired Jew to get the dough rolling. Abraham may not have been able to find 50 tzadikim when he tried bargaining with Hashem to save Sodom, but as far as I’m concerned, “Sin City” Tel Aviv has some of the holiest women in history.
Tel Aviv is the fastest growing city for young Jewish professionals in the world. While the idea of Flour Power Tel Aviv came from my heart, it only manifested because of the unity in our community. Next up on the agenda is Original WIN – Women’s International Network, dedicated to continuing the sparks of Shabbat, offering chesed opportunities and fun classes for mitzvah girls who have made aliyah. Check Facebook For more information or contact firstname.lastname@example.org