I did hafrashat challah this past Friday. It was supposed to be a pre-wedding event for my daughter and the brachot specifically for her husband-to-be and his entire unit of superheroes. They ended up getting married last Saturday night (with 3 hours advance notice) when he and his unit had a 20-hour furlough. But I decided to go ahead and do the hafrashat challah anyways – no big event, but just me and my daughter in the quiet kitchen at 10 am on Friday morning.
I love braiding challah. I started out decades ago as a young girl with a simple 3 strand, eventually upgraded to 4 and recently mastered the 6 braid, which is beautiful. But being in a fighting spirit, I made a Star of David challah. 2 triangles interwoven, over and under, and I wasn’t sure once it rose and baked if it would keep its shape. It did and it was gorgeous.
While I was getting ready upstairs for Shabbat, my husband carefully took it off the parchment paper and placed it on the challah board on the Shabbat table. Then he sent me 2 photos. One was the challah on the challah board and the second was the empty parchment paper. I was struck by the beauty of the second. There was nothing there, but yet there was. You could clearly see the shape of the Magen David, toasted sesame seeds scattered around it.
And I got to thinking about the traces we leave behind.
This past week, the largest gathering of Jews in the world rallied and marched in Washington. Close to 300,000 Jewish people from all over America and Canada drove, flew or bussed up to 25 hours to take part in this rally. Oh, how much I wanted to be a part of that, but being in Israel, I linked up and watched parts of it all afternoon and early evening. I heard passionate speeches, energetic music, the fervent reciting of blessings and Psalms, I heard young and old all proudly exclaiming their pride in being Jewish and being an integral part of this amazing nation. I heard the outrage at the rise of antisemitism throughout the world, the fear of Jewish students on campus, and the insistence that we bring our hostages back home, and the stubborn proclamation that we are not going anywhere.
Chills ran through my body when everyone joined in singing Hatikvah – The Hope – Israel’s National anthem and I was so incredibly moved by the sheer amount of flags being waved or draped over people’s shoulders like a superhero cape. It was the most beautiful sea of blue and white. כחול ולבן
I was chatting with a friend on Friday, someone I knew back in Toronto who had gone to the rally. She said it was the most amazing experience in her life. She sent me a few videos she had taken and you could see and feel the energy that had overtaken the Mall.
And then a few posts came out – amazing posts.
One was a woman who was overcome by emotion and started crying and before she knew it, the woman standing next to her grabbed her hand and squeezed. She introduced herself and said she was not Jewish, but she hadn’t been around to stand for the Jews during the time of the Holocaust, but she was here now. Standing with our people. And she was proud and grateful to be able to do so.
And the post of the police who were expecting a serious security issue during the rally, but had stated afterwards that it was the most peaceful rally ever – and not just that, but they said they had been thanked more on that one afternoon by Jewish citizens than they had in their entire career. And that they appreciated the Jewish kids handing out candy and snacks to them as a thank you for giving them protection.
I asked my friend if she was aware of what she had really taken a part in. She said, yeah, a rally for Israel, for the kidnapped, for our right to a Homeland. I said, sure, but it was MUCH more than that. I told her that she had been part of the biggest Kiddush Hashem in history. 300,000 Jews that were standing together – peacefully – in song, in love, and in unity. What an amazing thing for the world to see, to witness. Each person who had gathered there was there to give their strength and support and hope – and their voice! – to those who could not – to those who had lost theirs. To the murdered, to the kidnapped, to our soldiers who are on the front lines fighting for OUR lives.
At the close of the rally, the mall emptied out and what was once packed in with the largest Jewish gathering in history to stand in Washington, it’s now just a large expanse of land, grass, concrete.
But the footsteps that stood there – your footsteps – they are just a part of the traces of what you left behind.
I’m sure, that if I were to stand there now, in the quiet emptiness of the mall, I would hear faint sounds of the somber yet soulful notes of Hatikvah, and hear the woosh of flags waving in the air. And I would feel the love and the hope that you put out into the atmosphere.
These are the traces of what you left behind.
And it’s not a small thing.