Last Wednesday evening, October 25, women across northern New Jersey gathered for the Jewish Journeys Great Big Challah Bake. Held at Factory 220 in Passaic, the evening was a wonderful way to celebrate a mitzvah that embodies a spiritual value specifically designated for women in Judaism. Mothers, daughters, sisters and friends united for an evening of fun and inspiration, surrounded by words of Torah and ruach.
The event was organized by Jewish Journeys, a grassroots organization whose mission is to strengthen the Jewish home. Jewish Journeys, in partnership with The Federation of Northern New Jersey, NCSY and JInspire, brings groups of Jewish mothers with children under the age of 18 to Israel on a highly subsidized, inspiring 10-day Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP/Momentum) trip. To date, Jewish Journeys has brought over 125 women from Bergen County to Israel. Many of the women return from these trips with a newfound appreciation of their Jewish heritage and are inspired to learn more about their Jewish roots. Some even begin to introduce Jewish traditions into their daily lives.
It is after the Israel trip that the “journey” truly begins. This is when Jewish Journeys steps in to provide an array of Torah classes, monthly challah bakes, holiday programs, shabbatons, chesed opportunities and more. Most of the participants are wives and mothers, so making even minor lifestyle changes essentially means a household transformation. Andrea Portal, a Jewish Journeys leader who has participated in a Momentum trip, described the experience as life-changing. As a leader, she feels she gets just as much if not more out of this experience than do participants. “As I watch these women learn and grow in Torah ways, it inspires me to keep learning and growing,” she expressed.
From expert Challah bakers to first timers, everyone was inspired to participate as they arrived at their designated table and were greeted by a table coach who explained how the evening would work. Each guest was given a bowl filled with ingredients, an apron and necessary supplies to make and take their challah home. Tables were adorned with colorful balloon centerpieces donated by Inflated Creations. ComedyCures founder and Jewish Journeys alum Saranne Rothberg emceed the event and quickly managed to quiet the crowd of over 800 women with her signature belly laugh. Jordana Baruchov, dean of sixth grade at Yavneh Academy, demonstrated each step of the challah-preparation process, likening each ingredient used to create the dough to a profound spiritual meaning. As the challah took time to rise, participants were entertained by DJ Shimmy and IMOVEWITHNAZ. From grandmothers to small children, the ruach was contagious, and within minutes everyone was on the dance floor.
Part of the process of challah making is comprised of taking separate ingredients and forming something whole. It is a unifying experience both physically and spiritually. These women, who come from all types of backgrounds, unite with Jewish Journeys and engage in activities to strengthen their ties to Torah and Judaism. It was uplifting to see women and children eagerly participating in this mitzvah and feeling energized by the overwhelming number of people engaging in this experience together. Chana Schorr, a coach at the event, received wonderful feedback from participants. “I’ve been in touch with some of the women from my table. While some challahs turned out better than others, they all enjoyed the experience, plan on returning next year with more friends and are going to attempt challah baking on their own,” she said.
Jewish Journeys’ city leaders, Julie Farkas (founder), Jill Friedbauer, Esther Friedman, Elana Kaplan, Phyllis Krug, Dena Levie, Andrea Portal and Debbie Rosalimsky invested countless hours into making this challah bake the tremendous success that it was.
“The mission of Jewish Journeys is to strengthen Jewish homes. The power of the evening is that we came together, Jews of all denominations in unity. Building bridges and understanding one another is really important, commented Farkas. “We do The Great Big Challah Bake on a smaller scale every single month at the home of Esther Friedman. We are pros and our women were very excited that we took it on and so many stepped up to help. It was a great team effort led by Debbie Rosalimsky at the helm,” she continued. “Looking around the room made me very proud. In 2011 I identified the need to help others with little to no formal Jewish educational background connect and today over 130 women have gone on a JWRP Israel tip and our community of diversity is strong and still growing and thank God we all love each other and get along. We are the model for the way Jews should live together with one another.”
“The Great BIG Challah Bake exceeded our expectations. Our primary goal was to gather Jewish women from different backgrounds and affiliations to make challah (many for the first time). Our intent was also to introduce women to the mitzvah of challah baking (one of the mitzvot given specifically to women) as well as to familiarize them with Jewish Journeys,” explained event co-chair Debbie Rosalimsky.
“The Challah Bake was a wonderful coming together of women from various communities and levels of observance. It also helped raise awareness about our organization, Jewish Journeys, which inspires women to bring Judaism into their homes and families through a beautiful journey to Israel. I was honored to be on the planning committee for this event and I am looking forward to it next year,” commented Jewish Journeys alum Tanya Gurovich, who was in charge of setting up the room for the event.
The Challah Bake was a perfect opportunity for family members to partake in a meaningful group activity. “There was one family at our table that spanned four generations,” Chabad Rebbetzin Nechamy Simon noted. “The great-grandmother lives in Fort Lee, the grandmother lives in Tenafly and the mother and daughter live in Cresskill.” Tables were filled with mother-daughter duos as well as extended family who came from different communities to unite with one another.
Jewish Journeys alum Michelle Mandelman was in charge of ingredient breakdown. She said she felt blessed to be a part of this amazing event. “To be a Jew is to understand that we are given a mission to shine our light onto this nation,” said Mandelman. “Being part of the Jewish Journeys Great Big Challah Bake allowed me to help create an evening of unity, inspiration and connection. We engaged in an act of chesed, working to better ourselves, our community and the world,” she added.
Factory 220 kindly donated the space for the event. Other generous sponsors included BML-Blackbird, Inflated Creations, Northeast Private Client Group, North Jersey Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Sari’s Wigs, The Jewish Link and V&N Realty. This event could not have been possible without the help of so many volunteers, including the overwhelming number of students that various Bergen County Jewish day schools sent to sort ingredients, set up the room and assist throughout the challah bake.
The Jewish Journeys Great Big Challah Bake was organized in the merit for the refuah sheleima of Oriyah Chaim ben Miriam. All the proceeds from this year’s challah bake will go to Jewish Journeys to continue their mission. They fundamentally believe when you inspire a Jewish woman you inspire a family and, ultimately, a community. To learn more about Jewish Journeys, please visit www.jewishjourneys.org.
By Andrea Nissel