Kneading for Israel

Baking challah requires a neat formula of exact quantities of yeast, water, oil, sugar, eggs, salt, and flour, mixed and then kneaded together in a particular order.

There is no recipe for bringing the hostages home or securing the state of Israel right now. But so many people – 250 bakers – came to the Mega Challah Bake at LifeTown on November 16 seeking community, solidarity, action, and prayer.

They found pre-measured ingredients and recipe cards laid out on the tables in bowls that also included something else: a simple blue card, stating “I will pray for” with the photo, name, age, and nationality of one of the 240 hostages. 

Parents and grandparents, children and adults chatted as they mixed ingredients and soaked in the feeling of togetherness. Some are longtime members of the Friendship Circle community; others had come for the first time. At least one teen in the group came from Israel to New Jersey after October 7 to live here temporarily with family friends until the war comes to an end. He was smiling, kneading dough for the first time in his life. “I like it here,” he said.

“This is spiritual strength. I think that’s something we all need right now,” said Rhonda Lilienthal. 

Caryn Karafiol came on her birthday with her husband and two children. “What else would I want to do tonight?”

A hush fell over the room as Chavi Rosenblum shared the harrowing story of the ambush of her brother’s IDF unit in Gaza, when his gun jammed repeatedly, and he had to rely on his fellow soldiers to protected him. Thankfully, she concluded, the unit made it out. Just before entering Gaza, she recalled, he had asked for a waterproof, fireproof case for his tefillin to take into battle. He had his tefillin in his backpack through the fighting, and when it was done, he and everyone in his unit put on tefillin, right there in Gaza.

“Let us not wait for the light at the end of the tunnel. Let us be the light in the tunnel: let’s add a good deed and keep trying to be the light for all the hostages and all the IDF soldiers until we see them return home,” she said.

Throughout the evening people shared their grief and their anxiety along with their gratitude. “Women are not supposed to be widowed, and children are not supposed to be orphans, and a parent is not supposed to bury their children. What else can we do?” said Menucha Libson. “My grandson is in the IDF. I’m praying for the protection of all our children in Israel and in the IDF. Am Yisrael Chai!”

“Right now, anything I can do to support the Jewish community, I’m showing up for,” said Lauren Schere. 

“I’m praying for the hostages as many minutes of the day as possible and it’s all the more powerful to do it here at Friendship Circle, a place that is an incubator for mitzvot,” said EJ. 

Together, the group recited blessings for separating the challah, a Mi Sheberach for the soldiers, a prayer for releasing the captives, and Psalms traditionally recited in times of crisis.

Many bakers that evening, like Jill Robins, have family serving in the IDF.  Her thoughts were with her brother, a physician in the Reserves. “The amount of people here and everyone being together – it’s a great feeling, she said. “We’re trying to do what we can.”

Some came for the solace of being together, a bulwark in an otherwise hostile environment. “I’ve come to show my support and unity for our community. In this hard time, it’s like a distraction for everything going on in the world. Everyone is coming together and feeling happiness for just a minute,” said Meital Nathan. 

Celine Leeds, moved by the prayer cards, was not afraid to ask for the impossible. In addition to praying for the safe return of each hostage, she said, “We need a miracle now. But Israel always survives by miracles.”

Participants put the finishing touches on their challot, adding chocolate chips or cinnamon crumble before setting them aside in tins to rise. Lisa Mechanick surveyed the room. “There is something very spiritual about making challah,’ she said. “I think we are all craving community. To do it together–parents, and kids, and grandparents — is very powerful, very moving.” Her teenager, Zane, sitting next to her added, “Just being all together tonight is really meaningful.”

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