BMH-BJ Synagogue in Denver was buzzing with energy Thursday evening as more than 700 Jewish women united to celebrate the Jewish day of rest together.
The Great Challah Bake Colorado — inspired by The Shabbat Project, which began in South Africa in 2013 — has been in Denver for four years and is a part of a grassroots global movement that spans more than 1,100 cities around the world.
During the Shabbat, Jews rest from sundown Friday evening to nightfall Saturday night.
Challah bread is a ceremonial braided bread traditionally eaten on special occasions, such as Shabbat and Passover. Shabbat occurs every Friday, and that’s where The Shabbat Project comes in. The project encourages the Jewish community across the globe to participate in Shabbat together on a specific Friday each year.
“It’s all about unity,” said volunteer Talia Haykin.
“You’ll find women in this room who’ve never baked a challah a day in their life. You’ll find women who bake every Friday. You’ll find multiple generations,” she said.
“It’s just every spectrum you could think of within a community — we’ve got it in the room.”
Sarah Drexler of Denver came out Thursday evening to participate in her second event. She makes challah with her family almost every week.
“I just love seeing all the women from all different parts of our Jewish community,” Drexler said.
“All different denominations and friends from all across the spectrum.”
Her daughter, 9-year-old Adina, began to help bake challah when she was 3, “when she was big enough to stand next to me and put her hands in the dough,” said her mom Sarah Drexler. “I just love having her see all these women come together, it’s a really special experience.”
Molly Horowitz, a 10-year-old who attends Hillel Academy of Denver, attended for the first time with a friend.
Horowitz says she bakes challah every other month and was excited to do it as a group. She said she makes decent braids.
“I caught on pretty quickly,” she said. “I can do a four-braid but not any more complicated than that.”
Haykin described the event as a very simple project with a ritual and a methodology to it.
She explained that challah is the action of doing the blessing over making the bread and requires a certain volume of dough. A piece of the dough is blessed, and then that piece gets burned in the oven separately, as a ritual piece.
“The Jewish experience is sort of spearheading the organization,” said Chaviva Gordon-Bennett, who does digital marketing for The Jewish Experience. “(In) a lot of communities, it’s only the really religious Jews who come out to this because they’re used to baking challah. It really brings nonobservant or nonreligious Jews out of the woodwork.”
A common blessing for challah is, “Klal Yisrael,” which means, “All of Israel.”