Why We Bake Challah

Most folks familiar with Judaism are familiar with challah. If you are not so familiar, it is a beautiful braided bread. Typically we eat it on Shabbat, or on holidays, and it has become a really sweet tradition in our family to make one from scratch, together, and literally “break bread” after sundown on Shabbat.

When Joe and I started dating, and I would fly to Houston for the weekend, we would bake Challah when I got there. We called it our “Love Challah.” It became a joke in our family, mostly because it sounds silly, but upon reflection, that is exactly what this challah is to us. As a family we prepare it, braid it, bake it, anticipate eating it, and actually share it with a meal. It brings us together. We laugh, and argue over who gets to do which task, and we spend time talking about how amazing it tastes, complimenting one another.

shabbat1Before we eat it, we light the Shabbat candles. During that time, we all make a wish. Sometimes we wish for a new pair of shoes, sometimes we wish for more family time, and sometimes we wish for things that come true in a profound way.

Before our kids knew that we were dating, Joe lit the Shabbat candles with them. Joe had them make a wish, as has become our tradition. Later, when they were talking about their wishes, my daughter started to cry. When Joe asked her what was wrong, she told him that she wished for him to find someone to love again. She told him she didn’t want him to be lonely. When he asked her what that someone should be like, she had a clear picture. She wanted her to be tall, have long hair, love to sing and dance, like to laugh a lot, and most importantly, she needed to love them a lot too.

Joe started crying. He called me later that night to tell me that story, explaining that he felt fortunate that our daughter had made a Shabbat wish that would come true, even though she didn’t yet know it.

Fast forward to our first foursome Shabbat, and as we are sitting down to dinner, our daughter leans into me, and whispers, “You were my Shabbat wish.” Then it was my turn to cry.

shabbat2

Our family bakes challah because it gives us time to pause and remember that we love each other, we need to make time for each other in our busy lives, and that braided together we make up a sweet, healthy, [ful]filling concoction that has been created purely by love.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

Do you want to make your own Love Challah?

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon of honey

1 pack of active dry yeast

2 eggs (one for dough, one for egg wash)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of salt

1 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour

2 1/2 cups of white four (as needed)

1/4 cup of honey (additionally)

1/4 cup of Splenda

Honey to taste

 

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of honey. Let proof.
  2. In a large bowl mix 1 egg, olive oil, salt, 1/4 cup of honey, and Splenda.
  3. Once combined, add in yeast mixture.
  4. Slowly stir in 1 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour then up to 2 1/2 cups of white flour, as you begin to knead the dough.
  5. Once combined, allow the dough to rise for at least 4 hours in its bowl, covered with a damp cloth.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  7. Once the dough is risen, knead again, separate it into three parts, and roll each part until it is about 10 inches in length, on a clean, floured surface.
  8. Braid
  9. Cover the braided loaf with your egg wash, then drizzle with additional honey.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Enjoy your love challah!

Conditions for Unconditional Love

My son was upset this week. He has been upset for a few weeks. I am thankful that he tells me everything, even when he cries on my shoulder. He often leaves white snot on my black clothing, but I’m glad. He is almost a teenager, and so, yes, I am glad for this time and for his trust.

He told me that his biological mother regularly reminds him that I am not his real mom. He cried. I asked him what her reasoning was. He said because I didn’t give birth to him. He looked off, he quietly thought. He told me that was a ridiculous reason. Children who are adopted don’t consider their birth mom to be their “real mom,” he said, likely thinking about his adopted, sweet, baby cousin.

Later, he told me that he didn’t care what she said because I was his support. The next morning, working to tread the fine line between being the “cool mom” and talking badly about his mom, I wanted to cry for him. I told him clearly:
I don’t care if you call me mom.
I don’t care if you call me Ema.
I don’t care if you call me Alyssa.
All I care about is being the support you need, when, and how you need it. I want to be the parent you need, whatever that means to you.

He hugged me so close. I felt his snot soaking through my shirt. He lifted his head and smiled at me, his eyes full of water. He walked out of the house, headed to his real mom’s.

He yelled, “I love you, mommy!” And slammed the door behind him.

From day one, my son and I have been connected. Even when I was living across the country he would call me, FaceTime me, talk to me one-on-one when I was in town for the weekend. And I never introduce myself as my kids’ mom or step-mom. I hate those titles. I always say that I am their parent. I am. It is not my intention to replace or interfere– but I think that any parent who actively and responsibility works on their relationships with their kids, gets that. When your kids are your priority, you are happy for the relationships that they have. You know it takes a village. I know it does. I have a great village. I also know that being unpopular, strict, annoying, and a slew of other adjectives, makes me an active and attentive parent. It means that I love them when they are all of those things, too.

The day after this conversation, my fiancé’s aunt told me a story about her daughter and ex-husband, and a conversation they had recently had. Her daughter, in her late twenties, looked at this man in his fifties, and said one of the most insightful things that I have heard in years. He had said “I am your father, and I love you.” And she told him that was untrue. She went on to explain that a parents’ love is unconditional, and he had too many conditions. Asking her to choose between a person she loves or a thing she likes, and a relationship or time with him, is not love.

The parallel feels real to me. Right or wrong, that helped me understand parenting, my real mom counterpart, and perhaps what the next several years will look like. I brace myself every day for the time that one of my kids might say, “you’re not my real mom!” It hasn’t happened yet, and I hope that is because they understand my conditions:
Be kind.
Be honest.
Be the best you that you can.

We are all human. It isn’t my job to convince them not to feel. My job is to hear them, teach them, respect them, and (un)conditionally love them.