May 20, 2019

A Recipe for Community Building

Siblings Benny and Sarah Lande and their mother Mandy enjoyed baking challah together at Milken Community Schools last week, Oct. 25. Photo by Ryan Torok

Milken Community Schools middle and high school students recently gathered under a large canopy in the rear of the middle school campus and created community and challah magic. 

About 500 people turned out and baked the traditional braided bread customarily enjoyed during Shabbat and other Jewish holidays.

Milken Community Schools held the Oct. 25 challah bake as part of the Shabbat Project, a global grass-roots movement that began in 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and encourages Jewish communities worldwide to keep a single Shabbat transcending religious, political and other arbitrary divisions. 

This year’s programs took place in 101 countries in more than 1,500 cities — up from approximately 1,400 cities in 2017 — and drew more than 1 million participants. Reform Jews came together with Orthodox Jews, and young Jews turned out with elder members of their communities.

In addition to the Milken schoolwide challah bake, Shabbat Project events in Los Angeles this year included an Oct. 25 challah bake for breast cancer awareness at Shalhevet High School and an Oct. 26 Jewish unity concert in Pico-Robertson. 

The evening’s emcee, Rivkah Eisenberg, called out instructions for how to bake the bread. Standing at long tables, people followed her orders, mixing together their ingredients to make dough, breaking their balls of dough into three long, skinny strands and braiding the challahs.

“People really love community. Boys, girls, men and women — people love that making challah together is such a communal family experience.” — Sheila Goldman

Sheila Goldman, director of community engagement at Milken, said the goal of the event, which was organized with the help of Chareen Kossoff, a Milken mother who is originally from South Africa, was building community among Milken families. On Oct. 26, the day following the bake, 190 Milken families — about 700 people — hosted Shabbat dinners, where people enjoyed the challah they had prepared the evening before. 

“People really love community,” Goldman said. “Boys, girls, men and women — people love that it is such a communal family experience.”

Kids did more than bake. The youngest filled their baking gloves with flour and slapped one another around with them, making a mess, while some of the older students enjoyed Israeli-style dancing.

While challah dough is supposed to have around one hour to rise, folks at Milken allotted about 20 minutes for their dough to rise, which no doubt would have made the Israelites fleeing Egypt proud.

Ultimately, each attendee appeared to take away something different from the experience. 

Milken eighth-grader Benny Lande, who turned out with his sister, Sarah, a 10th-grader, and their mother, Mandy, said braiding the dough was difficult, but he liked the challenge of it and the opportunity to enjoy the timeless Jewish tradition with people he loved. 

“I like how it’s a lot of work that goes into it,” he said, wearing an apron. “I like that we do it all together.”

Sarah Lande, 15, said the pleasure was in discovering the symbolism behind each of the ingredients in challah. (According to an article published on the website of the Shabbat Project, “The Symbolism of Challah,” the water used for challah is symbolic of Torah; yeast represents growth and expansion; eggs, renewal of the life cycle; oil, anointing; sugar, sweetness; salt, discipline; and flour, sustenance.) 

Their mother said attending the challah bake at Milken was a recipe for building friendships with other families in the school. 

“We’re not as connected as the other families,” Mandy said. “So this is a way for me to meet the other moms.”