April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Annual Tradition Brings Families Together to Do Mitzvot

It was billed as “Mega-Mitzvah Mania,” and it certainly lived up to the hype, as nearly 200 children and adults gathered at Friendship Circle on Dec. 25 to make their own challahs, create a Havdalah set and participate in other mitzvah activities. The energy was palpable as young and old worked side by side, buzzing with excitement as their creations came to life.

“We were looking for something to do and I got the email from Friendship Circle. My son Max was so excited. He’s never made challah before,” said Melanie Wurtele, who came with her husband, Jonathan, and their three children: Max, 5, Julie, 3, and Abby, 2.

By the time he was done with the challah-making, Max was an old pro—with sticky, dough-covered hands to show for it—and he was not alone. Dozens and dozens of other children wearing white plastic aprons proudly showed off their sticky hands and their shaped loaves. Some of the challahs were long with chocolate chips sprinkled on top, while others were plain or even braided in unique ways, each challah as individual as the child and family making it.

“When we started Mega-Mitzvah Mania last year, we were blown away by the turnout and realized there was a need for a family program with a real Jewish focus on Dec. 25. This is now becoming an annual tradition and we couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout,” said Toba Grossbaum, executive director of Friendship Circle. “We love having an opportunity to bring families together, to do mitzvot together and spend a day making friends and helping other people.”

With Grossbaum leading the way, everyone learned how to make challah dough from scratch and then, once ready, braided it into two traditional challah loaves. Participants were urged to keep one challah for their own Shabbat table and give the other loaf to an elderly neighbor or someone who can use some cheer.

Experienced challah makers made the rounds, offering help to anyone with questions, but many people relied on those sitting with them at their table for guidance—or commiseration when things didn’t go as planned. “Why didn’t my yeast bubble like yours?” one would-be adult baker asked her neighbor, while another was trying to explain to her son that their challah had no chocolate chips because the little baker ate them before he made his dough.

The relaxed vibe and real communal feel gave families a way to connect with each other and meet new people.

In addition to the challah-making, families were able to create their own Havdalah sets, including a besamim (spice pack) and candles to be used during the service at the conclusion of Shabbat.

Everyone also had a chance to create Jewish-themed artwork, decorate a tzedakah (charity) box, and enjoy a little sports and recreation in the Friendship Circle gym.

“This is fantastic,” said Eric Sternberg, who came with his family—wife, Aliza, and children Noah, 5, and Emily, 1. “My kids had so much fun.”

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