Susan Jaffe (center), her daughter Muriel Doering and granddaughter Savannah Thrower at the Mega Challah Bake (Photo/Maya Mirsky)
Susan Jaffe (right), her daughter Muriel Doering and granddaughter Savannah Thrower at the Mega Challah Bake (Photo/Maya Mirsky)

At Mega Challah Bake, all you ‘knead’ is flour and a little prayer

There was a flurry of motion as 300 hands reached for flour, added yeast to bowls and carefully cracked dozens and dozens of eggs. None of the women and girls seemed to know exactly what they were doing, but they were all game to give it a go at the annual Mega Challah Bake run by Chabad of Contra Costa.

“Challah is not only a physical food, but a spiritual one, too,” said Sara Briman, the award-winning challah baker who for the past five years has traveled from her home in Mexico to Lafayette to help teach how to make the delicious bread.

She said the secret to her challah is not so much in the methods she uses but rather in the prayers she puts into each step and the spiritual significance of each ingredient — including the extra pinch of sugar she always adds.

“Even our taste buds tell us to reach out to HaShem,” she said.

Even though most of the participants appeared to be new bakers, Briman taught them how to do a complicated eight-strand braid that could be made into a round loaf for Rosh Hashanah.

Kneading challah dough at the Mega Challah Bake (Photo/Maya Mirsky)
Kneading challah dough at the Mega Challah Bake (Photo/Maya Mirsky)

All of the ingredients were premeasured and portioned out by volunteers, and instructions were written down for the participants, but there was still a lot of confusion, noise and flour everywhere as the novice bakers got going. By the end, though, everyone had finished loaves that were braided and rising, ready to be taken home and baked.

Muriel Doerr was sitting between her daughter, Savannah Thrower, and her mother, Susan Jaffe. Pointing to her daughter, she joked that she’d made her show up.

“You didn’t make me come!” Savannah retorted. (It was actually her second time at the challah bake.)

“It was good,” she said of her previous participation. “It was a great experience.”

The $18 entrance fee covered the cost of the hall, cleaning staff and supplies, including all of the ingredients needed to make the bread.

“Challah really is the bread of the Jewish home,” said Rabbi Dovber Berkowitz, who co-directs the Chabad with his wife, Chaya.

Chaya Berkowitz made a special announcement at the event, held in a hall in Lafayette. Chabad of Contra Costa has purchased land adjacent to its facility in Walnut Creek for a women’s mikvah, and although no plans have been drawn up yet for the ritual bath, the Berkowitzes were happy to share that it eventually will be a reality — once the planning is done and the money raised.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.