#ChallahConnected : The Sisterhood of Instagram’s Challah Bakers

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Challah is in its moment, having unseated sourdough as the baking task of the pandemic. Challah’s “moment” has lasted centuries, but now it also helps us place ourselves in time, reminding us that it is Friday, as one unreal day flows into the next. We feel a sense of community, a reassuring rhythm as Shabbat approaches, knowing that in Jewish homes all around the world flour is being measured. 

On Friday mornings, I post images of challah on my Instagram account @Jewishholidayhome and check in with my fellow Jewish bakers on the platform who are doing the same.

Cheryl Hobert (@NomadBakery), using a stone oven in her New Hampshire home, makes sculptural challahs that seem to be the stuff of fairy tales, twisting the strands of dough and tinting them with natural dyes. In Berlin, Idan Chabasov (@challahprince) is doing beautiful things with five-strand braids and now has thrown down the gauntlet, braiding seven strands and eight. Doxia Trinidad (@challahatchagirl) takes up the challenge with no fewer than nine. As we watch each other’s processes, we learn from each other and make each other better. 

Sometimes challah is about support. Whitney Fisch (@Jewhungry) is a mother, social worker and executive director of the Hillel at Miami University of Ohio and a counselor who advocates for teenage girls’ positive body image. She also makes beautiful challahs, often in bright colors with sprinkles. Troubled at what she felt was a lack of support for the Jewish community under attack by anti-Semitism, Whitney posted that she was “taking a 48-hour intentional break from Instagram to protest the platform’s hypocritical non-response to constant posts of hatred towards Jews #NoSpaceForJewHate.” Almost immediately she was barraged with hateful messages. All of us who follow and care for Whitney felt the gut-punch of seeing someone we care about attacked for sharing her life online. She responded with grace: “While the behaviors of these hate-filled humans who spit their vileness continue to haunt my nightmares (true story) I am touched and overwhelmed by the advocacy and support and interest that brought you here.” 

More than 2,000 miles away in California, it was a sense of encroaching anti-Semitism that led Meg Keene (@megkeene) to reach out to her Instagram community when her child, who is gender non-conforming, was denied a place in an Orthodox Jewish Day School. Meg posted a breathtaking photo of her child, who is joyful and glowing with well-being. The post was widely shared across the platform reaching as far as Tel Aviv and shared by Adeena Sussman (@adeenasussman) of the wildly popular cookbook, Sababa. Meg decided to post hoping to recruit other Jewish mothers for help in advocating for her child by writing letters to the school board. And she knew that they would because of the relationships she had developed on Instagram. These were Jewish women who went from liking each other’s posts to forming true and meaningful friendships that overcame the divide of Orthodox, Conservative and what Meg calls “Reformidox.” Despite their differences, the Instagram moms supported Meg and her child at this moment “because they are moms,” she says, “The number of Orthodox women who reached out and said, ‘I’m with you’ or ‘I’ve 100% changed my mind’ was amazing.”

 

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Now that Shabbat is coming to an end, let’s have a talk about my beautiful, Jewish, gender non-conforming kid. * Last month we contacted @oaklandhebrewdayschool about a spot for our kids. We were late to the game (2020) but they still had a possible spot for the kids. * Because Modern Orthodox have divided gender roles, we approached them to discuss how they would manage a gender fluid kid. * My concern was for our KID. Never in a million years did I think the SCHOOL wouldn’t be up for doing their best. This is a Modern Orthodox school in the progressive Bay Area that welcomes gay parents and interfaith families. * But after a few conversations, yesterday they called us to tell us they couldn’t take our child because he was gender fluid. They felt that the second grade teacher he would have was great, but the rest of their teachers and community couldn’t handle it. They stressed in several calls that this issue of gender had not come up before and they just wern’t prepared. (And apparently they thought they couldn’t do the work they needed to do with a child in their school.) They said they felt so sad about it, but couldn’t create a safe space for him. * Then last night I found out that last year they denied a trans child admission for the same reason. So it HAD come up, they HAD time to work on it. * My husband didn’t want me to speak out. And I know that by speaking out I might become a Difficult Jew that no Jewish day school will want. But it’s worth the risk. Because this isn’t just about my kid. This is about other kids being harmed. This is about changing culture. This is about doing better. This is fundamentally about discrimination and adults not being willing to step up and do they work and protect kids. * So here is my ask: • If you’re Jewish, consider writing a letter to the board of @oaklandhebrewdayschool, framing this in the lens of Jewish Values. (I’ve linked to a PDF on this in my bio.) • Also jews/ everyone please REPOST THIS. • If you’re Orthodox open this convo with your followers and community. This is for all of our kids (and all Jews). * Gentiles, I love ya, but this needs to be a family convo. * צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף • 📸 @kenziekatephoto

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Sometimes challah is about inclusion. Allie Barnes (@alliesbest), a kindergarten teacher, posts on Instagram about motherhood, Jewish life and her experience as a Jew of Color and describes the “unbridled” support she has found on Instagram from women of all levels of observance: “If you’re a Jew, you’re a Jew.” I featured Allie and her very impressive #firsttimechallah in my Instagram stories. Her joy at the accomplishment is palpable. Her posts invites us in as she prepares for Shabbat wearing her eight-month-old daughter Bowie-Mae in a carrier and with her mom at their side. Allie also offers support to her community. She is informative and generous, offering a Q&A on the subject of race and religion. She posts with intention about her heartbreaking loss by miscarriage before the joyful birth of her “rainbow baby.” Allie hopes to change the culture of silence around pregnancy loss and “help other women who are struggling.”

Lauren Schrieber Sasaki (@hismotherstable) began the organization @Jewish& to welcome the diverse community of multi-faith, cross-cultural families like her own to the Jewish community. Putting out the call “Half Jewish? Part Jewish? An eighth Jewish on your grandfather’s side? We welcome you.” Jennifer Crawford (@jennifer.e.crawford), host/writer of “My Queer Kitchen,” had only just discovered they were “a quarter Jewish on their father’s side;” typing that phrase into the search bar led them directly to Lauren. Raising her young family, Lauren sought to explore her own Jewish heritage more deeply. Chef Crawford, who was exploring their roots through food, had created a challah using traditional Nova Scotia brown bread, substituting molasses for honey. Connecting over Instagram led Chef Crawford to make the trip from Nova Scotia to Toronto to teach challah baking in Schreiber Sasaki’s Jewish& foundations class.

 

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Shabbat Shalom! Registration is now open for the first episode of ‘Building The Jewish& Cookbook’ – Nova Scotia Brown Bread Challah with Sea Salt, taught by Master Chef Canada Winner @jennifer.e.crawford . Sunday Sept 13th, 2-3pm – 5$ Registration link in profile ✨🍞✨ Nova Scotia Brown Bread Challah with Sea Salt One of Nova Scotia’s regional delicacies is brown bread — a soft enriched dough, lightly sweetened with the earthy tang of molasses. Swapping out honey in challah for molasses (an ingredient close to Jennifer’s Maritime heart) feels like a special and delicious way to honour their Nova Scotian and Jewish heritage. Sea salt on the finish invokes the magic of living near the ocean. Baked into a gorgeous round weave, it’ll be a stunner on a Rosh Hashanah table. About Jennifer: @jennifer.e.crawford has been cooking non-stop their whole life, especially since getting sober in early 2018 and subsequently winning MasterChef Canada in 2019. They’re a desk jockey turned food writer, chef, aspiring pro-wrestler, and moon mist ice cream enthusiast. In their My Queer Kitchen show & column with Xtra Magazine, they focus on the intersections of food, feelings, and identity. Their first book, Raging Appetites, will be published by House of Anansi in fall 2021. About Building The Jewish& Cookbook: Join us every month as together we build the Jewish& Cookbook – recipes from households blending traditions and cultures! Celebrate Jewish diversity and cook-a-long from your home kitchen or just pull up a seat and watch. *The ingredient list and zoom link will be emailed to you in advance of the class. #buildingthejewishandcookbook

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Each of these connections began with challah. But what has been created by these postings on Instagram is an emerging sisterhood. As in the physical realm, when a member of the sisterhood appears at the door with a kugel or challah or a roasted chicken, she brings with her a message of support. These connections help combat isolation. We show up for each other to offer comfort during times of struggle and to celebrate milestones and amplify joy. At this moment, when we are so profoundly distanced, this Instagram sisterhood is urgent and necessary. It helps us as Jews to be more inclusive, more empathetic and ultimately more connected. 

Racelle Rosett is an award-winning television writer (Blossom, thirtysomething) and the author of Jewish short story collection Moving Waters. Rosett has been featured in Huffington Post, Beliefnet, and as a contributing writer for GrokNation on the subjects of faith, family, and healing. Rosett teaches popular prayer-writing workshops in interfaith and health care settings. Her first short story won the 2008 Moment Magazine Short Fiction Award. She is working on a cookbook that builds on her Instagram @jewishholidayhome.

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