Barbara Cooper

Of Bread and Honey

This was going to be a Rosh Hashanah different from any other year.  I had hoped that by now Corona would be just a memory and that we would have been back to a more normal kind of living, celebrating the holidays with family.  Not meant to be…

With the realization that I would be alone for Rosh Hashanah came the desire for a former comfort that had been part of my life for decades.  Through those years, the pleasure of being with the family for the holidays was coupled with my marathon of challah baking for the gathering.  As this year’s Rosh Hashanah approached I looked forward to baking challah again.

There is a history to the recipe that I used.  In early marriage, I lived in a community that lacked a kosher bakery.  The supermarket only offered what they called “Jewish egg twist,” and that bread, being milchig (dairy!), was not usable for our traditional Shabbat meals.  What to do?  At first, my parents shipped my favorite challah to me by UPS.  In those days it only took one day (regular ground) from Brooklyn to Illinois.  But it occurred to me that I ought to try to bake.  The recipe that I used did not measure up to the standard that I had been accustomed to.  Each week I modified the recipe a bit and ultimately attained the characteristics that were so dear to me—a sweet loaf with a smooth dense texture, and finally the shape that was pleasing to me accomplished with a six-braid.

Now, in addition to recalling the “olden days” of being with family, I wanted to celebrate my first Aliyah anniversary by baking.  Alas, it was not meant to be due to unanticipated technical difficulties (oven issues.)  I ventured into the supermarket to purchase the necessary loaves.

It was surprising that all I saw were braided challahs, a disappointment because I expected to find round ones for Rosh Hashanah.  As I carefully perused the shelves I finally located—above my eye level—a beautiful round loaf.  Great!  But for all of the meals for the two-day Yom Tov I needed five loaves.  Five large loaves just for me?  I located a bag of five round rolls.  B’seder.  OK.  That would suffice, but somehow, I did not want to give up the large spiraled challah.  It must have been a message from Hashem.

Fast forward to erev Rosh Hashanah.  The first taste of a slice of the large challah dipped in honey was heavenly.  For lunch the next day I cut one of the rolls, dipped it in honey expecting to be similarly delighted with the sweetness and smooth dense texture that I loved.  It certainly looked pleasant enough, but the roll was crumbly and not sweet.  Even dipped in honey it lacked the appropriate taste—and it left large crumbs in the honey dish.  It was good that I had the large challah to enjoy.

And so, it became clear.  The most desirable quality was the integrity of the loaf.  All the ingredients were well integrated to create a smoothness and “one-ness,” and the taste was in tune with the added honey.  While the embellishment with the sweetness of honey should have made the rolls OK, it really didn’t.  The honey could not correct what was not part of the original character of the bread.  (With all due respect to the roll, it was fine toasted and with sauce and cheese added.)

And so, wishing everyone a year of integrity when all aspects of your lives are well integrated and smooth—and with an embellishment of sweetness that comes with good health, prosperity, peace, and happiness.

Onward to a Chag Sukkot Sameach to all!

About the Author
Once a stay-at-home mother of four children, and now grandmother to 15, Barbara spent 50 years 'children watching.' For a decade, she provided childcare in her home and was also a substitute teaching assistant at Gan Ephraim Preschool in Columbus OH. Over a period of 23 years, she made 19 trips to Israel, finally fulfilling her dream of making aliyah in 2019. She pursues ongoing independent study of Torah.
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