Hallah-making is the practice and transmission of family story and connection to Judaism.
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:וִיהִ֤י ׀ נֹ֤עַם אֲדֹנָ֥י אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ עָ֫לֵ֥ינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָ֭דֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָ֥ה עָלֵ֑ינוּ וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דֵ֗ינוּ כּוֹנְנֵֽהוּ
May the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us; for us the work of our hands; establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17)
Hallah…it has become a central piece of my rabbinate…I bake it, I bless it…and I teach others about it.
It was one step on my road to realizing that I wanted my Jewish soul to light the pathway for my life and define the road ahead for me. At age forty I was a patient in a hospital in Baltimore recuperating after surgery and away from my family. On Friday morning, two women ( I now understand that they were Lubavitcher Hasidim) came into my room and brought me “Shabbat.” They left two small challot, a bottle of grape juice and the blessings needed to make Shabbat. It was not my regular practice at that time to “make Shabbat.” Their visit moved me to tears, and I quickly reached for the phone to report this visit to my father, back in Philadelphia…..to share with him that “ Shabbat “ had entered my hospital room.
Those two Lubavitch women transformed my life. I tucked it into the recesses of my mind and would revisit the scene occasionally when I felt that my life was not complete. That visit launched a process of serious consideration about how being Jewish could be incorporated into my professional life. I knew that whatever path I would choose going forward, hallah would be a part of it.
Thirty years later, it has become more central than I could have imagined. While still a rabbinical school student, I took that Baltimore hospital visit with me when I worked as a chaplain for the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis. I shared with my supervisor that I wanted to begin such an initiative in Philadelphia hospitals…sponsored by progressive Jews. This was my first step in spreading the importance of hallah to others in my orbit. I have delivered these hallot myself, or taught others to do so. I have watched others have the same response as I had as a patient. The small loaves awaken a Jewish memory….or a dormant Jewish soul. My husband and I provide hallot every Shabbat to the patients in the hospital where he is a physician.
I have taken to baking hallot every Friday morning. As I knead the dough and then braid it, I bring my thoughts to my loved ones. Perhaps they are in need of special blessing this Shabbat. As I braid, the special blessings are in my heart. The rationalist in me knows full well that there is no magic in this blessing, but I do it anyway! It is another conscious connection to the ones most precious in my life.
I have taught so many people to bake hallot, and I have shared my recipe with anyone who asks. I have taught the mitzvah of hallah in large classes at our synagogue. I have taught individual classes to interested bakers in my home or the homes of friends. I receive photos of hallot from proud new bakers. I feel their excitement each time a new baker emerges.
As the rabbi who is officiating at a wedding, a baby naming or a bar or bat mitzvah service, I come with home-baked hallah to mark the life cycle event. It is my way of bringing life and sustenance to these moments. I braid my own blessings into the fresh hallot.
The work of my hands….
The almighty subtly invited me in to this venture. I did not really know all of the places that it would lead me. I was willing to try and find out. I thank the almighty for establishing for me the work of my hands and fully awakening my Jewish soul.