Perhaps nothing is as delectable on the Shabbat table as a warm, fresh-from-the oven loaf of challah bread. But there is more to challah than just yeast, water and eggs — and, in some recipes, honey. There are spirituality, Torah stories, symbolic meanings and life lessons intertwined within its braids.
On Oct. 23, the Jewish Sisterhood, a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 by executive director Shternie Rosenfeld will be hosting a challah-tasting event at a private home in Fox Chapel. This kickoff event will introduce Rochie Pinson, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident and author of cookbook “Rising! The Book of Challah.” Pinson, also dubbed “The Challah Whisperer,” will demonstrate some of the challah recipes in her cookbook while explaining the meaning behind them and imparting gems of Jewish wisdom and how they relate to modern life.
The cookbook features 38 challah recipes, some traditional and some more exotic, representing many Jewish communities across the globe.
“She spent years developing challah recipes and researching the history of challah from all over the world,” said Rosenfeld, adding that the cookbook, which she calls “a work of art,” will be available at Anthropologie stores during this Chanukah season.
Several weeks prior to the event, Rosenfeld and several members of the Jewish Sisterhood, following recipes from Pinson’s book, baked 24 loaves of challah and five dozen challah rolls for attendees to sample at the event. These included the “classic” challah recipe with sautéed onions, some filled with figs; a pumpkin challah; a kalamata olive and rosemary challah; a pretzel challah; and several “exotic” challahs, such as Moroccan challah, Persian barbari, Bukahrian lepyoshka and lachoch.
“I think a lot of people will love it,” said Committee Chair Amy Jaffe. “So much of our growing up in our Jewish life is based around food, the table and the kitchen. And I think for a lot of people, while they get new ideas and recipes, it evokes those very important memories of growing up and being surrounded by your mother or grandmother in the kitchen, and just that feeling of home and warmth and continuation of tradition.”
Jaffe said that through the book, she learned about the actual mitzvah of taking challah — the Torah-mandated separation of dough from which the bread gets its name — that is torn from a loaf and burned separate from baking.
“Taking challah reminds us that the best and the first of all our endeavors should be directed to God,” said Rosenfeld. “As much as we are involved in the day-to-day business of life, we always want to pause first and make sure our conscious connection with God is strong.”
Jaffe found the baking process to be relaxing.
“I found the kneading of the dough to be really therapeutic,” she said, adding that even nonbakers should have no problem following the recipes.
“We just spent a half hour of mixing and kneading; then it becomes this soft, beautiful, bouncy dough; you literally stand back and marvel at what you created,” said Rosenfeld. “We hope as Jewish mothers when raising our children, it’s a similar experience.”
This is not the first cooking demonstration to be hosted by the Jewish Sisterhood. A previous event was held at the home of Cindy Geber with Susie Fishbein, author of “Kosher by Design” and many other cookbooks. The organization hopes to hold a cooking event annually.
Rosenfeld draws upon her teaching background and her certification as a life coach to develop programming that focuses on adult education, Jewish rituals, family holiday celebrations and community volunteering. Much of the Jewish Sisterhood programming occurs in Fox Chapel, though women from all over the region are welcome to participate.
“In the suburbs, people can go for months without seeing each other and connecting. People are looking for genuine spirituality and connecting with other Jewish women,” said Rosenfeld, adding that some programs are open to men and to entire families.
Earlier this year, Rosenfeld conducted a women’s retreat.
“It was a whole day of self-reflection; it was a wonderful bonding of women, and self-development,” she said. “What I’d like to do is use my skills that I’ve gained in my life coaching and connect it with Judaism, which is all about becoming the best you.”
Of Pinson’s cookbook, Rosenfeld said, “There are not only classic recipes but every kind of topping you can imagine. It has every kind of braiding technique. I myself have learned a lot, all of the spiritual meanings behind the blessing” that is said when separating challah.
The regular ticket price for the Oct. 23 Challah Whisperer event includes a cookbook as well as the live baking and braiding demonstration led by Pinson, who will intersperse the session with stories of challahs around the world and their deeper symbolism. There will also be challah samples to taste. Those who purchase VIP tickets can have a private hands-on challah braiding session with Pinson.
Rosenfeld said that she is expecting more than 60 people at the Challah Whisperer event, and that registration is still being accepted. She urged those interested in registering to call her at 412-589-2677 or to visit her website, thejewishsisterhood.com. PJC
Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.