Friday is Challah Time
Where do you find ritual when your parents’ traditions leave you cold?
Might I suggest a loaf of bread?
The loaf I’m talking about is an enriched, brioche-style number called challah. Learning how to make it right and, more importantly, how to make it my own, has become meditation, therapy, a pathway to family love, and, at times, even a backdoor to spiritual life. And if you don’t want to read all this woo-woo stuff you can skip to the recipe at the end.
The roots of my challah ritual go back to when my stepmother found religion and announced that Shabbat dinners would be served every Friday to what had been a staunchly secular family. Bogus, bogus, bogus, I thought at the time. Yes, the food was filling and the wine, plentiful (something an out-of-work college-grad appreciated) but when mouthing the Shabbos blessings I felt as if I were being forced to read the script for a part that wasn’t in my contract. This bogusness was best expressed by the store-bought challah that sat on the Sabbath table. With its overbearing sweetness and dried out crumb it seemed more like day-old cake. No surprise that half of it was always left uneaten.
And so, I strayed to other loaves. After quarreling with my stepmother and failing to find work in New York I left for a job in Eastern Europe. In the godless lands of the former communist empire I came to appreciate Moscow’s musky black Soviet factory bread. Journeying south to the newly independent republics of the Caucasus I ate many Georgian hachapouri and, to avoid any evidence of ethnic bias, I put away equal amounts of Armenian lavash. In Sarajevo I pondered the end of the Serbian siege over piles of lipinja wrapped snug around bullets of cevapi. And in Paris, my last expat residence before returning to New York, I was seduced by the sexy tic-tic-tic the baguettes made cooling in my mesh bag as I toted them back to a lover in the 3rd arrondisement who was studying to be a mime.
I put all that bread behind me when I returned to New York and met Esther.
Our relationship started or, rather, almost didn’t start with my complete denial of any connection to Judaism. On one of those confusing are-we-friends-or-is-this-a-date? evenings that often mark the beginning of a…