Daniel Barash hopes that the simple act of baking bread with his daughter will inspire a movement.
Not that baking challah with children is all that unusual. Just step into any Jewish preschool on a Friday morning, or into mom’s kitchen on a Friday afternoon.
But given that his daughter, 3-year-old Aviva, doesn’t go to a Jewish preschool, Barash felt she was missing out. So as a way for them to share a meaningful Jewish experience, he decided to start baking challah with her every week.
“Of course, the acts of measuring the ingredients, kneading, mixing and waiting are all fun family activities to do with younger children,” said Barash, an arts educator, shadow puppeteer and Berkeley resident. Two months ago, they prepared and baked challah, which Barash, his husband, Mark Jacobs, and Aviva enjoyed that night for Shabbat.
But Barash had no way of knowing what would unfold.
The next week, some neighbors invited the family over for homemade mulberry ice cream. “I thought it would be nice to show our appreciation and give something in return, and the three of us couldn’t finish both challahs [we had baked] anyway,” said Barash. “So we gave one to them. It was wonderful to be able to realize we had enough and be able to share it with the wider community.”
The simple act of giving away the extra challah resonated deeply for Barash.
Inspired by a Jewish folktale — in which a man, thinking he is leaving challah for God every week, unwittingly provides for a synagogue worker who thinks the challah is from God — Barash rewrote a modern version, explaining the concept of sharing. The next week, he dropped into a senior care facility near his house and asked if they had any Jewish residents. They did.
He came with his ukulele, sang Shabbat songs and shared challah with them.
When researching the folktale, Barash learned there’s precedent for sharing challah. For example, while he knew that the origins of the Sabbath challah can be traced back to the double portions of manna that fell from the sky in biblical times, he didn’t know that Jews of the Temple period gave a small portion of pre-baked dough to the priestly class as a way to sustain them in their devotion to ritual, study, prayer and service.
Barash felt like he was embarking on a new tradition, one rooted deeply in Jewish values.
He decided to challenge himself to keep this up for a whole year, hoping it would inspire others to do the same. Calling it Challah-it-Forward, he began a blog, recording what happened each week and what conversations it evoked in his family and beyond.
At the same time, he began to wonder whether others could be inspired to share, as well.
He soon was signed up to do family education programs at several synagogues, using his shadow puppetry to share the fable. Barash is well versed in this area: A former organizer of family programming at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, he leads a monthly family service at the Jewish education farm Urban Adamah, where his husband is president of the board, and he is also affiliated with the new Open Tent Shul of the Arts in Berkeley.
To get Challah-it-Forward out into the world, he helped a class of 4-year-olds at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley bake challah, then the teachers took the loaves around the neighborhood to give them away.
“They delivered them with a note explaining the concept,” Barash said, “and we didn’t plan for this, but everyone we gave challahs to, gave something back to the children.”
Jodi Gladstone, a teacher at Beth El, is a big fan of the idea.
“I am so glad that I had the opportunity to watch the children ‘Challah-it Forward’ to local shop owners and homeless individuals,” she said. “Everyone was deeply touched by the children’s pride in their work, their confidence and generosity. It was truly an amazing day.”
Meanwhile, at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Barash has been teaching a four-part family education program that includes challah baking. One time, the families took the freshly baked loaves to the Moldaw Residences, a senior retirement facility on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life.
“The children could really understand how this is fulfilling the mitzvot of acts of gemilut hasadim, or loving kindness,” said Barash.
While Barash has invited guests to share thoughts about challah baking on his blog, his next project is to share a curriculum that can be downloaded and used by anyone who also wants to Challah-it-Forward.
“I can see this spreading both in terms of different age groups and communities,” he said.
In part inspired by the 2004 book “A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World,” Barash also wants to develop a curriculum about the variations of challah baked in Jewish communities around the world.
“It has a lot of potential,” he said. “People shouldn’t feel they have to do this every week, but it’s an invitation to try.”
Challah-it-Forward has photos, blogs and more information at www.challahitforward.com.