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"Full Circle: A Year of Challah-it-Forward"

Daniel Barash

As anyone who’s followed our “Challah-it-Forward” journey over the past months knows, music is often the soundtrack of my days; lyric and melody converge, making sense of and reflecting the experiences at hand. Thus, this past week, as it really dawned on me that come Rosh Hashanah, we would cross the one-year threshold, 50-plus weeks of baking and giving, I couldn’t help but think about this little tune from “Rent”:

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Moments So Dear
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure - Measure A Year?

In Daylights - In Sunsets
In Midnights - In Cups Of Coffee
In Inches - In Miles
In Laughter - In Strife

In - Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure
A Year In The Life?

How About Love?
How About Love?
How About Love?
Measure In Love

I now have another way to measure a year - in CHALLAH! 50-plus mixings, kneadings, risings, braidings, bakings, tastings, and givings! 

For it was exactly one year ago that we began Rosh Hashanah with a round challah, filled with the sweetness of the new year to come. After that first week, Aviva began making connections between challah and the wider world, through the creation of her own one-line song entitled “The World is Round Like a Challah, and Challah is round like the world!” Since then the connections and questions have both deepened and widened; Why is the world round? What is gravity? Why do oceans cover the world? How long will you live? How long will I live? How do people die? How many seconds are in a minute? How many minutes are in an hour? How many hours are in a day? How many days are in a month? How many months are in a year? How many years until I’m all grown-up!? So many questions!!

Questions have actually been at the heart of this whole endeavor since the beginning, for although the initial “Challah-it-Forward” challenge seemed simple enough (“Let’s bake challah every week as a family, and then commit to keep some and give some away”), a myriad of questions were soon revealed: How are we going to make and share week in and week out, whether or not we are actually in town? How can I possibly write something interesting about this experience for 50-plus weeks straight? Are we going to make the same kind of challah every week, or experiment with different recipes? Are we going to share with the same individuals or groups every week, or try to deliver as far and wide as possible? 

Only time would tell, and week-by-week, and month-by-month, the questions were ultimately answered:

50-plus weeks straight? It really wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated, though it did require intention and planning. After a few weeks, a rhythm was established, which kept it going despite the challenges that inevitably presented themselves. When we were away, I’d make sure to call individuals or agencies within the visiting city beforehand and arrange for a delivery. Thus, “Challah-it-Forward” reached Madison, San Diego, the Sierra’s, and even Kauai!

Finding enough topics to write about? Easier than I thought, as ideas seemed to serendipitously present themselves in the most unexpected moments. On the whole, I often found myself writing about the fragile endeavor of parenting, and the lessons that I’ve been lucky enough to learn.

The receivers of our challah? While we had initially envisioned reaching as many folks as possible over the course of the year, we ended up with a few local regulars (Chaparral House, Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center, and our cohousing neighbors). The local aspect of many of our deliveries allowed Aviva the opportunity to really “get to know” our neighborhood in a profound way, though we were also able to make deliveries to city-wide homeless shelters, members of our community who were ill, and others through random acts of kindness.

Standard recipe, or wild experimentation? Despite an initial desire to exponentially expand my challah-recipe repertoire, our busy schedules meant that we mostly stuck with a honey whole-wheat challah, though we tried a few other varieties as well (Czernowitzer White, Seven Species Sukkot Challah, Egg Free, Gluten Free, Matzah).

After making and sharing this year’s Rosh Hashanah challah with friends at Camp Tawonga’s outdoor service, we returned home, tired and exhausted. But with enough energy for Aviva to insist on one last evening snack, a feast of fresh pomegranate seeds. I couldn’t help but think about the pomegranate’s rich symbolism within the Jewish tradition. As noted in the wonderful anthology “Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning,” rabbinic tradition teaches us that a perfect pomegranate contains 613 seeds, equal to the number of mitzvot (commandments) within the Torah. Throughout the year, we had been inspired by one category of these mitzvot: Gemilut Chasadim, or acts of loving-kindness. As Aviva reached for and relished each pomegranate seed, savoring their crunchy sweet taste, I smiled, realizing that by giving to others, we often do indeed receive many sweet, unexpected returns.

And now, a new question: What’s next for “Challah-it-Forward?” 

I’m honestly not sure. Though maybe not every week(!), I’m committed to continuing to bake and give as a family, as I can’t imagine not having this as regular family practice! With regard to regular blog entries, the writing will no longer be a weekly ritual, but will rather appear on an occasional basis, as inspiration strikes!

One thing I am quite certain of is the desire to continue sharing “Challah-it-Forward” with others; families, preschools, synagogues, religious schools, youth groups, and more. Stay tuned for what form this might take, and if you have any ideas, please do share them with me.

On a personal level, I think a new family project for this coming year (not to be blogged about!) surrounds the question of “What is enough?” It will involve reassessing what material things we currently have in our lives, what we actually need, and what might we be able to give away to others. A related focus will explore our future material needs with regard to family consumption, and will involve much more intention surrounding new material items that we bring into our lives.

As a final note, I want to thank my dear family for taking this journey over the past months, and all of you dear readers for lending your ears along the way. 

With love and gratitude,

Shanah Tovah!

Week 50: "Reflections...In Her Own Words"

Daniel Barash

As we enter the final stretch of our year-long "Challah-it-Forward" Challenge, this week I decided to let Aviva speak about the experience in her own words. After we looked over photos taken throughout the year, I asked her some questions. Here are her thoughts...

Abba: "What does 'Challah-it-Forward' mean to you?"

Aviva: "We 'challah-it-away' to somebody else…"

Abba: "Why do we 'challah-it-away' to somebody else?"

Aviva: “So people can enjoy it.”

Abba: "Who are the people that we’ve 'challahed-it-away' to? Who do you remember?"

Aviva: "Milo, Chapparal House, Zoe (at the Women's Daytime Drop-in Center), our next door neighbors, Dr. Wolffe when he was sick...people in Kauai!"

Abba: "Who have you enjoyed making challah with?"

Aviva: "Aunty Cindy! Abba Gabba! Nana Trudy! Zaide Lazer! Emily! Gideon! Max!"

Abba: "What was your favorite part of making the challah each week?"

Aviva: "Honey…putting the honey in!"

Abba: "What was your favorite ingredient?"

Aviva: "Honey!"

Abba: "Aviva, you once said, 'I’m a Challah Artist.' What did you mean by that?"

Aviva: "Artists paint…and I was brushing egg on the challah!"

Abba: "Do you think you know more about baking challah now than you did when you first began one year ago?"

Aviva: "I know how to mix…I know how to lick the honey…I know how to put the flour in…I know how to take little pieces of challah!"

Abba: "How does it make you feel inside when you 'Challah-it-Forward?'"

Aviva: "A million trillion billion...not sad, not happy, but a little bit in the middle…"

Abba: "If we continue to 'Challah-it-Forward,' who would you like to give challah to?"

Aviva: "Claire (Aviva's preschool teacher), so she doesn’t have to cook ‘cause of her new baby…And people in my life that I know, but I haven’t given it to...Aunty Cindy and Abba Gabba!"

Abba: "What was the hardest part each week about making challah?"

Aviva: "Stirring it when it was a little bit doughy!"

Abba: "Any other thoughts you’d like to share?"

Aviva: "I think my friends liked making challahs with us…It was really fun, and we got one piece, but the other people got tons of pieces."

A warm Shanah Tovah to one and all...!

Week 49: "One Grain of Sand"

Daniel Barash

While on vacation in Kauai, it became a daily ritual for me to wake at five, put on my “headlamp,” and step out into the darkness. I would descend the hill that led to the beach, where I would walk as the stars slowly disappeared and the sun cast its light over the vast openness that is the sea. There is something special, even sacred, about witnessing the transition from night to day, and it’s a tradition I hope to continue in my daily life.

Last Friday, as I was waking and walking, I thought through what the day ahead would bring. After my walk, I would bake bread with my daughter, and that afternoon, we would deliver it to a social services organization called Kauai Economic Opportunity (KEO). This local agency began 50 years ago, and is dedicated to identifying and alleviating the causes of poverty on the island. They offer a host of programs, including early learning centers, community mediation, and food programs for the elderly. They also run a homeless shelter in Lihue, which is where we were going to deliver the week’s challah.

In the darkness, a large white van suddenly arrived, and when its passengers departed, they asked where the sandbar was on the beach. After I pointed them in the right direction, I politely asked why they were gathering, and was informed that they were going to participate in a “Rising Sun Ceremony,” a Hawaiian monthly ritual that occurs on the morning of the full moon. After I was invited to participate, how could I resist this unique opportunity to experience the new day?

When the 20 plus participants gathered, the leader spoke briefly about the ceremony. She started by reminding us that though the morning was cloudy and overcast, the sunrise promised to be magnificent in its own way. And just as our own lives can have days that are more cloud-filled than others, we can honor those times and see what we can learn from them.

She then asked us to think about what we were grateful for in the past, and to think about our hopes and wishes for the present day and the future before us. As we were reflecting, I couldn’t help but recognize the continuing synchronicity (see week 48!) that I was experiencing on this trip, for this ritual was taking place during the month of Elul, where as Jews, we are asked to deeply contemplate the year before, as preparation for Rosh HaShanah, when we begin anew.

The actual ceremony involved facing the rising sun on the beach, a few feet from the water, and chanting a short song as the light filled the sky. We then individually entered the sea to immerse in the water and again contemplate the past, present, and future. Again, though different in many ways, the connection to a mikvah, and water's central role in cleansing and renewing, was keenly felt. 

As my feet sank into the soft sand within the water, I couldn’t help but think of how vast the world is, and how small any one individual is. I was reminded of the ancient Jewish teaching by Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha: Everyone must have two pockets, in the right pocket are to be the words: “For my sake was the world created,” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) And in the left: “I am but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27) How do we reconcile our importance in the world with the fact that in the scope of things, we are but a grain of sand?...

I think the answer lies in acknowledging the truth in both statements, and ultimately embracing this paradox. Indeed, as I ascended the hill before waking my daughter to bake bread, I couldn’t help but think about Pete Seeger’s take on this teaching, in which he illuminates just how unique and extraordinary every grain of sand can ultimately be…

"One Grain of Sand"
Words and Music by Pete Seeger

One grain of sand,
One grain of sand in all the world,
One grain of sand,
One little boy, one little girl.

One grain of sand,
One lonely star up in the blue,
One grain of sand,
One little me, one little you.

One grain of sand,
One drop of water in the sea,
One grain of sand,
One little you, one little me.

One grain of sand,
One little snowflake in the swirling storm,
One grain of sand,
I’ll hold you close to keep you warm.

One grain of sand,
One leaf of grass upon a plain,
One grain of sand,
I’ll sing it now again and again and again.

The sun will rise,
The sun will rise and then go down,
The sun will rise, 
One little world goes round and round and round.

So close your eyes,
So close your eyes and go to sleep,
So close your eyes,
One little smile, one little weep.

Week 48: "Serendipitous Creativity"

Daniel Barash

This past week, my family has been visiting the island of Kauai. It’s been relaxing, fun-filled, and tiring! I’m learning that four-year-old vacation (and let’s be honest, regular life) energy is high, demanding, and non-stop! For the first part of our travels, we stayed in a very rustic, remote guesthouse, with little internet access, and definitely not a full kitchen. This clearly presented a problem as Shabbat approached. Luckily, we were switching to a more mainstream condominium with a proper oven on Friday afternoon, but I still needed to prepare the dough in the morning, and let it rise while on route to our new southern abode.

Dan Kelin

Dan Kelin

Which is why I found myself driving to the Kapaa Safeway at 8 in the morning to pick up challah ingredients! I turned on Hawaii Public Radio in my car, and learned that…drumroll please…the only person that I know who actually lives in Hawaii was the guest on the morning program; Dan Kelin, one of my fellow Kennedy Center Teaching Artists (who is also the Director of Drama Education at Honolulu Theatre for Youth), was being interviewed on HPR’s “The Conversation.” What are the chances of this serendipity!

Dan was speaking to the host about the role of creativity in students’ lives. Among many pithy discussion points, he mentioned that “Creativity is the basis of everything and anything we do in our lives. Period. End of sentence. You want to be able to do everything you do in a creative way.”

How, I wondered, could this idea apply to this year-long “Challah-it-Forward” challenge? After all, how creative is the process of making bread every week; mixing the ingredients, letting them rise, braiding the dough, and baking? But soon it became clear that creativity has been vitally important to this endeavor, particularly as a way to spice up what could become a mundane routine. For every week, we have to make so many creative choices; “What kind of Challah are we making?” “Who are we making it with?” “Who are we making it for?” “Where are we giving it?” “When are we giving it?” “WHY are we giving it?”

Is it for the Shabbat tables of family, friends, or neighbors? Is it for someone who is ill in the community who could use a thoughtful pick-me-up? Is it for someone who will receive a random act of kindness? Is it for the elderly in our community who live in a nearby eldercare facility? Or some of the clients of a local women’s daytime drop-in center? It is asking and answering these questions with my daughter every week that makes this a creative journey after all!

Yul Brynner and Prince Chulalongkorn (not me!)

Yul Brynner and Prince Chulalongkorn (not me!)

Dan also spoke at length about the role that theatrical craft plays in children’s lives, and I thought back to my own theatrical childhood, which included countless productions since I was a wee eight-year-old. Among the many lessons that have stayed with me all these years later is that of “perspective.” Whether it was playing Prince Chulalongkorn in “The King and I” and learning how unjust slavery is, or seeing “Les Miserables” and appreciating how “justice” can be manipulated, or falling in love with “Into the Woods,” which has provided me with ever-changing perspectives of childhood, parenthood, and the sometimes messy lives we lead!

It is my hope that this “Challah-it-Forward” challenge is also opening up Aviva’s eyes to new perspectives; that through the places we visit and the people she meets along the way, she will be that much more appreciative of the complex, fragile world that surrounds us all.

Which brings me back full circle to last Friday. For although I found myself in a bit of a panic after learning mid-morning that our plans to deliver the challahs to a local Jewish Family had fallen through, I was luckily able to quickly connect with the YWCA of Kauai, which runs a Family Violence Shelter, providing a 24-hour hotline, counseling, support groups, safety planning, referrals and advocacy, assistance with protective orders, and emergency shelter.

Though we couldn’t deliver our challah directly to the shelter, as their address is kept private for the safety of its clients, the Shelter Co-Director Kathy Friere agreed to meet us at an Ace Hardware for the hand-off! When we met her, she was delighted to receive the challah and a handmade card from Aviva, and explained to Aviva that the bread would be enjoyed by mothers and children who were “having a hard time” and needed a place to get the help they needed. She said that there were currently 9 women and 13 children staying at the shelter.

At our Shabbat table that night, after we made the blessing over the challah, we imagined how the 22 people at the shelter might be enjoying the bread at the exact same time that we were. Though the challah portions might be small, hopefully they would taste the love, care, and honey(!) that were in each piece!

Mixing in the north with Abba.

Mixing in the north with Abba.

Egg-washing in the south with Papa.

Egg-washing in the south with Papa.



A good week to all…

Week 47: "Guest Challah Bloggah!"

Daniel Barash

This week we continue the Guest Challah Bloggah! tradition with a post from the incomparable Elizheva Hurvich. The artist, educator, and mother of Max was the winner of Week 25's "Butterfly Challenge". As such, I sponsored, in her honor, a $50 Butterfly Grant, ensuring more “Butterfly Effects.” She, in return, committed to two simple things:

1)   Doing something kind (it did NOT need to include baking) for others, a la the Butterfly Effect;

2)   Sharing it with the wider community by writing a “Guest Challah Bloggah” post over the coming months.

Here is the blog she wrote! Enjoy!

"My friend Daniel called last week to tell me he was going on vacation and to ask if I would bake Challah, "Challah-it-Forward" and be a Guest Blogger for the week. 

"Oh," I replied, "We're going out of town too, to my in-laws ...." Not taking the hint (or "no" for an answer,) he said "Perfect! You can do it together!" And added, "Don't forget to take pictures!!"

I called my mother-in-law who agreed to the project, with the caveat that when the weather is humid, as it often is on Cape Cod in August, the dough does not rise properly. Also, she wasn't in the habit of giving food to others on the Cape and was not quite sure how we would fulfill this part of the challah-it-forward challenge. 

Although I have baked challah a few times in my life- and even did a workshop with Daniel and Aviva- I still was unsure how engaged my 3-year-old would be. To prepare him, I pulled up G-dcast's "Let's Bake Challah!" App, letting him add the ingredients, mix, roll, braid, and decorate a virtual challah before getting his hands dirty. (He really liked it).

Friday morning arrived. 

Grandma told us to get start early so we would have time for a double rising and so it would not be too hot. Grandma pulled out her favorite recipe (Racheli's challah found in Mollie Katzen's Still Life With Menu cookbook.) Max and I washed hands then stayed at the sink to find the proper temperature to activate our yeast. "Not too hot, not too cold," Grandma warned, as she came over and ran water on her wrists, teaching us how to determine the right temperature. 

As we emptied the envelope of dry active yeast into our bowl of just-the-right-temperature-water, my 16 year-old-niece Maddie, who had seated herself at the far end of the table for breakfast, philosophized aloud, "Yeast is fascinating; it has some of the qualities of being alive, but not all of them?"

"What's missing?" Asked her dad, articulating my question. 

"Let me guess!" Piped in Talia, Maddie's younger sister, "it doesn't reproduce!"

"Yes it does," answered Maddie, as the khaki colored experiment in our bowl begin to expand. 

Having forgotten the details of the yeast's strange-but-not-quite-alive-state she asked Siri. And as we added honey, cups of flour, salt, eggs, and oil, we talked about yeast and biology and dormancy and seeds and ground flour versus grains. 

And with each addition to our batter, Max asked with a twinkle in his eye if he could taste it?

Finally our dough was mixed and ready to rise. Now came the most challenging part--how do we navigate the timing and get to play at the beach?

By the time the first rising was ready to be pounded down, our friend Tom had arrived. We floured our board, punched, and divided the dough. Luckily Max's G-dcast App reminded us of the blessing to say when pinching off a portion of dough to make it "challah" (though one might argue that since we no longer give it to the Biblical Temple Priests as in days of old, and because we are planning to donate an entire challah, the ritual pinch of dough is not necessary, but that's another argument for another time).

It turns out that Tom was an excellent challah roller. Max wanted to eat dough. I wanted to divide and braid.

We were able to make four nice loaves and began to contemplate where we would give them. My nieces came from Philadelphia and from Westchester county. There are plenty of hungry people there--but they only donate non-perishables. No fresh bread. 

So what to do? One for us, one for Tom, and one each for friends we plan to see in Boston, with an invitation to each of them to "Challah-it-Forward" too. 

We put four loaves in the oven and 40 minutes later the house smelled heavenly. The golden loaves came out beautifully! And while they cooled, we headed off to the beach to play. 

The bread was so delicious! we only put out one loaf for Shabbat that night--there was not a crumb left. On Saturday afternoon my nephew walked in for lunch asking for some more Challah- "it was so good!"

We head to Boston Monday and will share the other loaves with Shirah, Bret, Eliora, Hadara, Morissa, Jason, and Yaela. 

In sharing it with others, the Challah will continue to rise!"

Week 46: "An Experiment in Gluten-Free!"

Daniel Barash

It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s over; my first experience with gluten-free baking! I had been meaning to try my hand at this improbable challenge for quite some time, but had managed to find one excuse or another week after week.

But this past Friday we were preparing for a preschool weekend camping trip, and as preschool Director Molly Skuse eats a gluten-free diet, the perfect opportunity presented itself.

The first task involved finding the right recipe; a Google-search of “world’s best gluten-free challah” landed me on “Just Call Me Chaviva’s” blog post “The Best Gluten-Free Challah Recipe You’ll Find.” Done deal, just follow the instructions right? No one will ever know!?

Not so fast; first, there were the ingredients I had never used before—oat flour, rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, anyone? I tried to locate most of these ingredients at 6 AM from a 24-hour Safeway aisle, but had to make some substitutions, which was probably the first sign of trouble.

Then there was the concoction that resulted when they were all mixed together with the help of water, salt, honey, and yeast. It didn’t spring, and it was frankly a mess--I had certainly never appreciated the wonder of gluten the way I do now!

Finally, the baking! I had been warned that a gluten-free dough is not able to be shaped in the same way as your traditional variety, making a braid near-impossible. The solution; buy a baking pan in the shape of a challah, and then fool Shabbat guests into thinking that you actually braided! After another extensive Google search, I finally settled on a Kaiser Bakeware 15-Inch Classic Braided Loaf Pan. Into the pan went my batter, and into the oven went the pan, upside down, to both rise and begin baking. Mid-bake, the loaf was flipped over to a baking sheet for its duration. 

The result? Aesthetically speaking, a wanting imitation of a gluten-ous cousin! Taste-wise? Ditto! Do I blame the blogger who posted the recipe? No; as I mentioned, I made some ingredient substitutes, some of which could have fundamentally altered the recipe. 

I that ultimately, this kind of baking is just a new frontier for me, one that can only be truly known with a lot of trial and error, and perhaps some baking tutorials from those who have preceded me.

In the end, the challah was proudly (if not a little embarassingly) presented to Molly and Gabby (a friend and fellow preschool parent). Though not consumed entirely like most other challahs on most other weeks, seconds were reached for and enjoyed, which is saying something, yes?!

Here’s to trying new things, however scary they may seem…

Week 45: "Thank You (In So Many Ways)!"

Daniel Barash

16 cups of flour, 6 cups of water, 6 eggs, combine! Large quantities, to be sure, as I prepared 10 pounds of dough for Camp it Up’s inaugural challah-baking workshop. 10 families had signed up for the afternoon program, and would descend upon the camp dining room in a mere two hours!

When they finally did arrive, it was definitely controlled and curated chaos! But honestly, compared to my first family challah workshops last fall, this was a piece of cake; I now have a rhythm and a method to these programs, and there aren’t too many curveballs that can surprise me. What a difference all these months have made!

Throughout the braiding process, the resting period, and the egg-washing, participants shared memories of challah in their own lives, and new challah traditions that they have incorporated into their weekly schedules. Questions were asked, and tips were exchanged, along with a few hearty laughs.

And then the challahs went into the oven—for five minutes too long! No matter; though they looked very “well-done,” the insides were moist, and after participating in an intimate Kabbalat Shabbat gathering, campers thoroughly enjoyed them, complemented with a little buttery spread, of course!! 

While we enjoyed half of the loaves, we gave the other half to the kitchen staff, in appreciation for all the incredible work that they had done during the previous week; keeping 200 hungry campers well fed and happy, in 95 degree weather, is no small task, and some warm fresh bread seemed like one way to show our thanks…

A much longer-term “Thank You” had also been in the works for the entire week; at the first Saturday evening program, Jill Rose, the camp director (of 26 years!) introduced her 26th camp song. Now let’s be clear, these are not little ditties; they are anthems, each and every one of them, with multiple verses, bridges, harmonies, and octave-hopping. Later that evening, as I was sitting in the dining room playing my ukulele, it occurred to me that it was high-time for a song of thanks to be written for Jill. So a couple of hours and a few hundred strums later, “Thank You” was completed. I surreptitiously taught it to other campers (mostly before of after our adult choir rehearsals), and during the final Saturday evening program, we surprised her, with the whole camp joining in for the choruses! 

I had also teamed up with with Marguerite Young, who led adult arts courses at camp, and Claire Simons, who led the arts programs for children, and they produced a stunning mirror mosaic that was presented to Jill that evening, featuring the chorus of the song. Enjoy the song (recorded and mixed by the incomparable Dave Rosenfeld--I highly recommend him for small and large projects alike!), and the lyrics!


Thank You”
A Song of Thanks in Honor of Jill Rose
Summer, 2015

Such a small spark
Started so long ago
A place for everyone
Family and friends for all to grow

Like a garden you gave sun
Ample water, where there was none
And now we reap
The taste so sweet
The taste so sweet


And we want to say
Thank you, for all the years
That you have given
Thank you, for all the seasons
So much livin’
Planted a tree
That now gives shade
For you and me
Carry on, as we sing this song
As we roll along

Verse 2:

Through this long journey
You have shed your light
Always standing strong
Fighting for what you know is right

Like a stone dropped in a pond
Rippling out, to the great beyond
It’s message clear
Our home is here
Our home is here



New directions
As we look ahead
Now take that step
That mighty leap
And forge the path we’ll tread

Interestingly, once I was on the thankfulness bandwagon, I was inspired to write two more small songs of thanks, one more general, and one focused on the food we eat. They were also recorded by Dave, and shared freely with you here.

Thanks for going on this journey with me, everyone, and a wonderful weekend to all!

Week 44: "Camp it Up!"

Daniel Barash


Wrong turns happen—especially when I’m driving! Last Saturday, we made our annual summer pilgrimage to Camp it Up!, an amazing family camp that I introduced in Week 21. What should have taken a cool four hours took a hefty six after I missed a mid-trip turn. No matter, for when we pulled up at half-past five, we were warmly welcomed, as expected from this community that has been gathering for the past 26 years.

After settling in, dinner was served, and our table mates (plus a number of nearby folks) were treated to the week’s Challah-it-Forward loaf! “Oohs,” “Ahhs,” and “Yum!” were roundly exclaimed, accompanied by a warm, proud smile from baker Aviva. A perfect beginning to a week of community, connection, and hot weather! Days filled with arts and crafts, music, swimming, creative play, food, and good conversation. 

There is no internet connection here, so all the campers, both young and old, have been forced to unplug and reconnect—with each other! There are not many opportunities for this in our 21st century lives, and we welcome and cherish this time as a family.

In thinking about the significance of this kind of experience, I’m reminded of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s description of Shabbat as a “Palace in Time,” a sanctified period in our otherwise busy lives. In a way, Camp it Up is representative of this idea, eight days of intentional connection with ourselves, our family, our wider community, and the natural world. 

Of course, since we are here through Sunday, we’ll Challah-it-Forward again this Friday. Only this time, we won’t only be baking for the Camp it Up Community, but with it as well; I’m leading a workshop for 10 camping families, and we’ll share half of our loaves with the kitchen staff, who have been working so hard this past week providing us with nourishment.

I'll provide a full workshop rundown next week. Until then, a Good Shabbos to all!

Week 43: "Little Free Library!"

Daniel Barash

I’d seen them around Berkeley before, little wooden boxes in front of neighborhood homes, each filled with a collection of books. But to be honest, I had never really taken the time to stop, open one of the doors, and look inside. Missed opportunities to be sure, for in early June, as I was perusing in 4th Street’s Builders Booksource, I saw Margret Aldrich's The Little Free Library Book staring up at me, begging to be opened. When I heeded the call and looked inside, the world of Little Free Libraries (LFL) was introduced, and I was immediately smitten!

Little Free Libraries started in 2009, when co-founder Todd Bol built a tiny, artful schoolhouse box of “free books” in front of his home, to honor his mother who was a former teacher. He immediately received positive feedback from neighbors and the wider community, and soon built more little “houses for books” to give away locally.

The rest is history, as they say; Todd soon teamed up with co-founder Rick Brooks. They were both inspired by many different ideas, including Andrew Carnegie’s support of over 2,500 public libraries in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s; Lutie Stearns, who brought “traveling little libraries” to 1400 locations in Wisconsin during the same period; “take a book, leave a book” collections in many public spaces; and grassroots empowerment movements springing up around the world.

After a little brainstorming and a lot of excitement, they decided to embark upon a bold challenge: help inspire the building of at least 2,510 (one more than Carnegie’s brick and mortar variety!) Little Free Libraries, tiny houses of free books in which recipients could take any book of their choosing, with the understanding that at some point, they would try to restock the missing title with one of their own. In essence, a continuous and ever changing little local library.

Their small dream became a viral reality within a few short years (albeit with a lot of hard work on the part of many!); there are now over 25,000 Little Free Libraries all around the world, and the number continues to grow every day!

Though very different in many respects, I actually think that the wonder of Little Free Libraries actually mirrors our little “Challah-it-Forward Challenge” in small but important ways; both involve giving and receiving in a simple, straightforward manner; both can be accomplished on the smallest of scales; and both have at their heart the belief in building and strengthening community, one book and one loaf of bread at a time!

Rick Brooks, Megan Hanson, and a sleeping Aviva!

Rick Brooks, Megan Hanson, and a sleeping Aviva!

Already enchanted with Little Free Libraries, I soon discovered how small and interconnected our world is; the LFL movement started in Hudson, Wisconsin, a small town a few hours from where I grew up, in Madison! And Marc Kornblatt, the “Challah-it-Forward” filmmaker from Weeks 40 and 42, has actually made an award-winning film about Little Free Libraries called “Because It’s Small”! On a recent trip home, I was able to meet with co-founder Rick Brooks and Megan Hanson, who works on LFL community and online engagement. It was a wonderfully connective meet-up, in which I was inspired by the their LFL phenomenon, and they were eager and excited by our Challah-it-Forward initiative! After our discussion, we strolled the neighborhood, stopping by a few of the literally dozens of LFL’s that line the streets of Madison.

Back on the home front, I of course bought “The Little Free Library Book” and immediately brought it over to Aviva’s preschool director, Molly Skuse. “Do you think Berkeley Urban Garden School (BUGS) might be interested in having a Little Free Library?” Without missing a beat, Molly said, “Of course, we’ll start this week!” And start she did, with husband Dominic Cabrera and the whole BUGS crew. And what was amazing, but not surprising in the least, was how the children were involved with every step of the process; from sanding the wood, to creating design sketches, to painting the base, to making from scratch little birds who would “nest” at the library. Truly a collaborative process!

We recently had our Grand Opening celebration, complete with homemade lemonade and cheesy popcorn. And of course, I couldn’t help myself and wrote a Little Free Library Song, which I performed and taught to everyone directly after the ribbon-cutting! A full-length recording of the song (complete with vocals and visuals from the kids themselves) is in the works, but for now, here’s a sneak-peak, with vocal help from Molly herself!

A wonderful weekend to all!

Week 42: "The Long and the Short of It"

Daniel Barash

Making challah takes time! There is no getting around this fact. Granted, it takes a lot less time than when we started this journey ten months ago. At the beginning, every step of the process received the utmost attention, from which ingredients were going into which bowl, to the temperature of the warm water for the yeast, to the braiding, to the restings and risings, you get the picture. All this seemed to take up not only a lot of actual time, but also a great amount of mental energy.

But then a strange happened. As the months passed, we established a rhythm, sort of like a choreographed dance; but instead of a highly choreagraphed dance, which includes the precision and exactitude that I thought challah-baking required, this dance has room for spontaneous steps, changing tempos, and a little (or a lot!) of messiness.

But as I said, there is no getting around the fact that even if this task at hand takes less time, and is now a natural weekly ritual, it still requires intention and planning, over the course of many hours. Which is one of the reasons why I’ve appreciated it as a new practice; as much as we like to schedule our lives with quick little complete tasks that can be checked off before moving on to something else, the various steps of baking a challah (the assembling of ingredients, the rising and waiting, the braiding, the rising and waiting again, and finally, the baking) requires us to creatively manage our time, going in and out of the “challah zone” over the course of many hours. While originally somewhat stressful, I again now welcome the challenge of creatively structuring my schedule to accommodate both challah-making and the rest of my life!

Enter Marc Kornblatt, a Madison filmmaker who has recently expanded my notions of time, and what can be accomplished in greater or lesser amounts of it! For on a recent visit to my hometown, when I was set to conduct a Challah-it-Forward program at Arboretum Cohousing, Marc asked if he could make a short movie about the experience. I didn’t know exactly what this would entail, but as this seemed like an exciting opportunity, I readily agreed.

During the actual program, I was so focused on teaching that I barely noticed that Marc was there. But there he was, taking hundreds of shots, both moving images and stills. And then, literally by that evening, he had sent me the rough cut of a 5-minute film!

Before the first viewing, I was honestly a little suspicious; how can a movie lasting only a few minutes capture this experience in its entirety, both the time-consuming act of making the bread, and the ever-growing meanings behind it, gleaned over many months!

And then I pushed “play,” and was pleasantly surprised; as I mentioned in Week 40, Marc’s creative use of shots both near and far, creative splicing, narrative structure, and informal storytelling really did tell a compelling yarn. It’s not the whole story of course (as if this were even possible!), but in a mere five minutes, it beautifully illustrates the essence of the baking process, the journey that our family is partaking, the travelers that we’re meeting along the way, and the magic and mayhem that is integral to this entire experience!

And if that weren’t miraculous enough, he made a one-minute film trailer, which is of course only a teaser, much like the smell of a fresh challah is no substitute for a taste of the real thing. I offer you this for now, with the promise of letting you know when and where you might view “Challah It Forward: The Movie!” in the near future.

A good week to all…

Week 41: "Four and the Fourth!"

Daniel Barash

I’m four!

Aviva proudly proclaims this phrase to her Abba and Papa at least ten times per day. On May 24th, Aviva officially ended her three-year reign, and is now basking in the 4th dimension and all that it has to offer. She can now say more, do more, want more, cry more, love more. It’s (almost) as if the first three years were rendered in subtle shades of black and white, and now it’s all technicolor!

In many ways, it’s a very exciting time; she’s beginning to know what she wants, and is fiercely independent about how to obtain those wants. And for exactly those same reasons, it’s proven to be a great challenge for Abba and Papa ;)

In some respects, an imperfect analogy to this situation is the FOURTH of July, celebrated across these United States this past weekend. Here we remember our nation’s founding--the good, the questionable, and the deeply troubling…we remember the early years after the colonists arrived, and their desire to ultimately chart their own course, free of the tethers that stretched across an ocean. We marvel at their audaciousness, and their persistence of vision. And we shake our heads, as we recognize how this very “freedom” was ultimately sacrificed by the accompanying genocide and slavery that stained and continues to stain our country to this very day.

What are the similarities, you ask, between a four-year old girl and a new nation gaining its independence?! Well, they both involve entities that are quite young, and full of energy, spirit, determination, and grit. And they both are characterized by a lack of maturity, perspective, due process, and nuance.

Our personal Fourth of July was celebrated with a family camping trip to the Russian River. After baking challah on Friday with Emily, a friend from preschool, and sharing it with cohousing neighbors for their holiday cook-out, we awoke early on Saturday morning and headed to Schoolhouse Canyon Campground, right outside of Guerneville. While the New York Times full-page “Declaration of Independence” always beckons its readers to think about the deeper meanings of the holiday, our convenient excuse for not engaging in the text this year was the early-morning mad-rush to avoid traffic, followed by the many distractions encountered once on the road.

From the beginning of this camping weekend, it quickly became evident that we were in for a Mini-Fourth-of-July-Revolution. Wherever and whenever Aviva could assert her independence, she did so, unapologetically, and with fervor. “I can fasten my seatbelt!” “I want snack now!” “I don’t have to use the bathroom!” “I want to stop at THAT playground NOW!” “I want to eat strawberry jam packets raw while waiting for my meal, I want to spread more raspberry jam all over my Mac and Cheese, and then I want to take several packets home with us because we NEVER have anything sweet at home!” “I want to climb and jump on top of our real car because it’s a toy and it’s fun!” “I don’t have to look both ways EVERY TIME I cross the drive at the camping site, only SOMETIMES!” You get the picture, yes?!

More than once, okay about every five minutes, Mark and I would exchange exasperated glances at one another. “How exactly did we find ourselves in this situation?” “Do we have any control?” “Where did we go wrong?” “Can we change this dynamic?!”

Clearly, I’m being a little overly dramatic here; much of our visit was filled with laughter, silliness, and the telling of frightful stories under the redwoods. And most of the time, Aviva acts with a reasonable head on her shoulders. But the weekend did raise important and thorny questions for us: How do we as parents set healthy limits, establish boundaries, and ultimately keep our daughter safe, while also nourishing her spirit, her sense of self, and her growing independence?

Amazon has been our friend; we’ve ordered more than a few new parenting books that are now waiting to be read and acted upon…and we’re definitely looking to our wider community for any words of wisdom. So, nu, anything to share?

In community…

Week 40: "Goin' Home..."

Daniel Barash

After visiting Milwaukee, WI, last week for a family wedding, Aviva and I traveled on to Madison for an extended vacation with my parents, affectionately known as Zaide Lazer and Nana Trudy.

I like to think of this “Challah-it-Forward” project as a “year of sharing.” The concept of sharing can be thought of in so many ways; the sharing of challah, the sharing of compassion with the wider community, and in this case, the sharing of time with loved ones. And what a gift of time we had while visiting my parents; going out to eat, visiting the zoo, swimming at Goodman pool, playing at Madison Children’s Museum, attending Concerts on the Square, taking walks around the block with Charlie, my parent’s Golden Doodle, and reading books together morning, noon, and night!

Getting to know those close to you in an unhurried way is such a blessing, and I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity to strengthen the bonds of family.

Another highlight of the week was the “Challah-it-Forward” program that I led at Arboretum Cohousing (Arbco), an amazing community located in the heart of Madison. Cohousing is, according to the website, “a type of intentional, collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their neighborhoods. Cohousing provides the privacy we are accustomed to within the community we seek. Cohousing residents consciously commit to living as a community. The neighborhood’s physical design encourages both individual space and social contact. Private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, a playground, and a common house.”

Our family has lived in cohousing communities in both the Washington, DC, area, and in Berkeley. In the DC area, we lived at one of the largest cohousing communities in the country, with 67 units(!), and now we live in a much smaller, human-scale community of 15 households.

Marc Kornblatt

Marc Kornblatt

Prior to my visit home, I had discovered that one of my former Midrasha (hebrew high school) teachers, Marc Kornblatt, and his family (who are also good friends with my parents from the local synagogue), live at Arboretum Cohousing, and when I called Marc to see if folks at Arbco might want to have a “Challah-it-Forward” workshop right in the Common House kitchen, he jumped at the opportunity.

And not only that; Marc is an amazing actor, playwright, author, teacher, and filmmaker (find out more at Refuge Films), and when he asked if he might film the event and then create a short piece about “Challah-it-Forward,” I jumped at that opportunity!

Early on Friday, I prepared ten pounds of dough with Aviva, and then led eight members of the Arbco community through the challah-making paces later that morning. Marc was busy, busy, busy taking as much footage as possible, in a surprisingly totally unobtrusive way. He’s been working on the editing over the past week, and I’ve already seen some of the footage. With incredible close-ups, creative splicing, and a storyteller’s vision, Marc is creating quite a little gem of a film, and someday soon I will share it with all of you dear readers and hopefully the wider community as well!

Until next week…

Week 39: "Growing Families and Growing Power"

Daniel Barash


The alarm sounds, and it’s 3 AM on Saturday morning. We slowly and groggily wake Aviva, all get dressed, bring our luggage downstairs, and bag two fresh loaves of challah that Aviva and I made late Friday night. We get in the car, and drive in the darkness to SFO. Destination, Wisconsin!

A sleepy Aviva, at Abby and Robby's post-rehearsal dinner.

A sleepy Aviva, at Abby and Robby's post-rehearsal dinner.

Yes, we’re going across the country, and our Sabbath loaves are taking the journey, too! My cousin Marcy’s daughter is getting married, and to help Abby and Robby celebrate, we’ve decided to challah-it-forward our loaves to the post-rehearsal dinner, for all who’ve traveled near and far to enjoy.

The wedding on Sunday was meaningful in both profound and unexpected ways; first, the bride and groom were standing under the same chuppah (wedding canopy) that Mark and I stood under 14 years ago! Created by my dear grandmother Annabelle Argand, the corners of the chuppah include the embroidered Hebrew names of all who have been married within. Second, Abby and Robby were married on Father’s Day, and so were we! Except this time I actually AM a father, with perspectives and experiences (and countless sleep-deprived nights) that I couldn’t have imagined all those years ago. If I could turn back time and actually speak to my younger self, what would I say? What COULD I say? Sharing wisdom is so important and necessary, AND at the same time, I think it’s the living of a life that truly teaches us the lessons that ultimately guide us.

The day after the wedding, we were fortunate enough to tour Growing Power, a truly inspirational urban farm started by a renaissance man named Will Allen. I had initially learned about this farm thanks to an author event at our local library (yay to local libraries, so essential to healthy communities!). Jacqueline Briggs Martin shared her newest book, entitled “Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table.” It recounts the truly remarkable true story of Will Allen, who as a young man decided to purchase six empty greenhouses in a part of Milwaukee that is considered a “food desert,” meaning that there is very little access to fresh, nutritious food. He transformed this little plot of urban land into an extremely healthy and abundant urban farm, which provides low-cost, nutritious food (as opposed to “food-like substances” that we find on most of the shelves of our grocery stores) to local residents.

When I found out that this remarkable story took place in Milwaukee, WI (90 minutes from my hometown of Madison), I promised myself that someday I would see this, and share its inspirational message with my family. Well, Monday afternoon turned out to be my “someday,” as my Aunt Eve treated us to a farm tour! Although there were very heavy rains in the morning that threatened to cancel, the weather magically cleared up right at noon, and we drove to Growing Power!

"Growing Power" Tour!

"Growing Power" Tour!

The tour was truly inspiring, in countless ways. The farm is essentially a zero-waste operation, with almost all waste from one part of the growing process being used to help another. What impressed me above all else was the fact that Will Allen had the special quality of “seeing things” that don’t currently exist, but could; as the book illustrates, Allen initially saw a row of empty greenhouses, and then imagined a table flowing with food. He saw the dimensions of those six greenhouses, and then imagined food growing not only within their horizontal footprints, but also vertically, from the ground all the way up to the ceiling! And finally, he saw a successful urban farm, and then imagined it as a model to be emulated globally, giving people around the world the tools and strategies to grow and provide healthy, nutritious food for all!

It’s that quality, of seeing things as they are, and then imagining how things could be, that I hope blossoms in Aviva over the coming years. I look forward to seeing how she (and really her generation as a whole) meets the challenges that they confront, with healthy amounts of creativity, grit, and compassion.

Week 38: "The Holiest Place You Can Find"

Daniel Barash

This past week, due to a variety of factors (getting up late, long breakfast, getting-dressed-stalling-tactics—take your pick), we were unable to Challah-it-Forward on Friday morning to the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center. We then decided to deliver the bread to our cohousing community at Friday night dinner, easy enough, yes? But after a long day, we forgot to bring it over!

What to do? Rather than figure this out by myself, I decided to seek Aviva for her advice. So right before bed, I told her about our dilemma, and asked for her ideas.

She honestly wasn’t sure, and neither was I. But then I remembered, and subsequently reminded her about the “Challahs in the Ark” song; when Mendel makes two extra challahs by mistake, he decides he will donate them to someone in need. But who would this be? He seeks counsel from town elder Rivke, who says:

Put them in the holiest place you can find,
Someone will discover them in a short time.

Just like Mendel, we would have to think of a special (if not necessarily “holy”) place to leave the loaf, and then hope that someone would find it! I asked Aviva to think about this while going to sleep, and we agreed to decide together in the morning.

On Saturday after breakfast, I helped her to make a little list of places that were important to her. Chaparral House, Strawberry Creek Park, the YMCA (where she goes to swimming lessons every week), and the Center Street Farmer’s Market were all included. When pressed, the YMCA ultimately won out; we would drop-off the challah near the entrance, and then go play in the KinderGym!

Before leaving for our special delivery, we wrote a note to be included with the Challah, with an envelope that read, “For the person who finds this bread!”:

And then we were off! She chose a spot near the YMCA main entrance, and then went in with Papa. I actually didn’t stay with them, as I had a library program to drive to in Santa Clara that afternoon. But I did cross the street and watch for a few minutes, to see if anyone would find the loaf (and then take it!). First, nothing…then some passersby stopped, looked for a moment, and then went on there way…And then finally, after about ten minutes, a twenty-something who was walking with a friend strolled by, slowed for a moment, and continued down the street. But a few paces later, he went back, opened the card and read it, and finally picked up the challah and ran to meet his friend, who was waiting for him…

Later that evening, after returning from Santa Clara, I asked Aviva if she noticed that the challah was gone after they finished playing in the KinderGym. “Yes,” she beamed. “It was gone. Somebody took it!” I decided not to tell her, at that moment, that I had actually seen it being taken. For her, I wanted to demonstrate one of Maimonides’ highest forms of giving charity, in which the giver does not know to whom one is giving, and the receiver does not know from whom she is receiving.

But we did wonder, together, about this little mystery: “Who was this person?” “What made them pick up our gift?” "Where did they have lunch today?” “Did they share it with others?” Did they like it?” It quickly became evident that the wonder of not knowing was perhaps more powerful in some ways than having all the answers.

I would like to continue these “random acts of kindness” over the coming months, so if you’re in the Berkeley area, keep your eyes peeled, for you never know!

Week 37: "Sprout!"

Daniel Barash

“To grow, spring up, or come forth”

-Definition of “sprout,” courtesy of Merriam-Webster Dictionary

This past week, Challah-it-Forward (CIF) worked with Sprout: Helping Jewish Families Grow Together, “a network for Jewish families looking for Jewish educational resources, opportunities to meet other parents, and explore Jewish life in the East Bay.” The initiative is sponsored by The Jewish Federation and The Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay, and includes Liora Brosbe as the Youth and Family Concierge position.

How was the seed of this collaboration between CIF and Sprout planted? Over coffee of course! About six weeks ago, Liora hosted a “Coffee with the Concierge” event at Berkeley’s Allegro Coffee Bar. It was basically a meet-up, in which parents could ask questions, share with each other, and receive support (both the caffeine kind, and the “I’ve been there, too!" variety).

After I shared a bit about the Challah-it-Forward initiative, someone asked, “Can I do that?!” which was followed by a small chorus of “How fun, me too!” Liora and I then brainstormed for a bit, and came up with the idea of co-sponsoring a CIF bake in the Common House of my cohousing community.

So last Friday, eight East Bay families came together, some with young children, some with older children, and some with grown children. Together we measured, poured, mixed, kneaded, and shaped our many challahs. While the bread was baking, I shared the “Challahs in the Ark” song and other Shabbat tunes. When the loaves were ready, and finally came out of the oven, we all broke bread, together!

At event's conclusion, each participant took home a loaf for their Shabbat table, and donated one to “Challah-it-Forward.” And where did these challahs go? All around the Bay Area, in fact!

At the suggestion of some of the morning’s participants, some loaves were shared with clients of Shalom Bayit, a Bay Area grassroots organization that seeks to “foster the social change and community response necessary to eradicate domestic violence in the Jewish community.” They do this with a comprehensive menu of programs that provide support, education, and advocacy. My partner Mark took some loaves to residents at San Quentin State Prison, as part of a Kabbalat Shabbat visit from Urban Adamah, a Jewish Urban Farm located right here in Berkeley. One loaf went to Chaparral House, where Aviva and I lead Shabbat song gatherings on the first Friday of every month. And one challah went to Berkeley Cohousing for their Friday Night Common Meal.

Talk about spreading the dough around! What a very rich and full baking-it-forward experience this week!

A hearty early Shabbat Shalom to you and yours…

Week 36: "Double Chai!"

Daniel Barash

I’ve found myself counting a lot this week, numbers both small and large. Saturday night marked Shavout, celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, which occurs 7 weeks after Passover; Aviva’s 4th birthday was on Sunday, and my 44th birthday arrived on Wednesday. And now this: Week 36 of the Challah-it-Forward Challenge!

Week 36; in some ways a week like any other, not so very different from 35 or just-over-the-horizon 37. But the number 36 is indeed special, and does carry important meaning. You see, it is twice as large as 18, the significance of which was described in Week 18’s blog post, and is therefore referred to as “Double Chai!”

And yet the number urges me to pause and reflect for a moment. About that for which I am thankful in my life: my family, my friends, my health, and the opportunities that present themselves to me. Opportunities like Challah-it-Forward, which has instilled in me new appreciation for my daughter, my community, the sacredness of Shabbat, and the joys of giving to others.

And the number 36 encourages me to also think about the unanticipated rewards of this mitzvah endeavor. For example, through my partnering with Jewish organizations (in which I present the shadow puppet version of the “Challahs in the Ark” folktale as an inspiration for them to Challah-it-Forward themselves), I began to think about other artistic modalities that could be used to tell this beloved story. I quickly landed on music; though it is such an important part of my life, it has definitely received short shrift over the past years. Luckily, in February I attended the Song Leader Boot Camp in Saint Louis, where I had both the creative space and motivation to write (in one day!) a “Challahs in the Ark” song-story, which I now regularly incorporate into my Challah-it-Forward institutional programming! 

And this songwriting experience opened the door to even more creative musical ideas; what if I wrote more song-stories, each of which would musically highlight the rich tales of our folk tradition, and the important lessons held therein? Again, timing was in my favor, as I just spent the last week at Hava Nashira, an absolutely amazing songleading camp started by Debbie Friedman and Jeff Klepper more than two decades ago in Oconomowoc, WI. The week was mainly about filling my own “musical well” through programs led by an expert staff. But it also provided me with the opportunity to share and obtain feedback on a number of my new song-stories, and for this I am grateful and humbled.

Of course, as I was gone for Shabbat, I could not prepare challah with Aviva as I usually do. So my partner Mark stepped in, as always, and baked our “loaves of love” with her on Thursday night. It’s harvesting time, and some fresh green peas (yes, peas!) mysteriously found themselves adorning the challahs, one of which was given to dear Aunt Cindy.

Challahs with Green Peas!

Challahs with Green Peas!

On Saturday, the last night at Hava Nashira, there was a little “shopping shuk,” in which we could purchase CD’s and other wares from both staff and participants alike. I found myself drawn to a table selling Judaic-inspired jewelry, aptly named “Chai Note.” Staring up at me was a beautiful “Chai” necklace, with the added twist of musical note imagery. How fitting, I thought, and how in line with my newest artistic journey, in which music plays a vital role in bringing about and encouraging change.

And so, I now return to the West, with many new ideas and inspirations, and a little “Chai” around my neck to accompany me on my next creative chapter…

Week 35: "Egg(less)pectations"

Daniel Barash

At this point in our “Challah-it-Forward” journey, we have established rhythms, both in terms of when we make the challah (Thursday night and Friday morning before school) and a recipe (after trying a variety, we settled on a honey whole-wheat version from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day as our standard go-to).

But this past week, change was in the air, as we were invited over to one of Aviva’s friend’s homes for dinner on Friday. Milo is the newest and youngest member of Aviva’s preschool class, and from the moment he arrived, he and Aviva have been fast friends. They enjoy creative play, making music together (they both love Peter, Paul, and Mary), and making each other laugh.

It didn’t take long for Aviva to learn something very important about Milo--he’s allergic to eggs! And after seeing how her school enthusiastically accommodates his special diet, she was very eager to try making an egg-free challah for our dinner together.

How to make an egg-free challah? Search the Internet far and wide, and then hope that you’ve picked the right recipe. After trolling for a bit, I found a fairly straightforward recipe from Nava Atlas’ Vegkitchen website, submitted by Rachel Ornstein Packer. She created it for her son, who is also allergic to eggs, and tweaked and refined it before sharing.

For this recipe, instead of egg serving as a binding agent, the replacement includes combining canola oil, warm water, and baking powder, which are mixed and then added to the yeast slurry right before adding the flour. Aviva loved the bubbling action from the baking powder, and it almost felt like we were conducting a science experiment.

The resulting dough definitely felt different from our usual, and lacked some of the springiness and elasticity of our standby. But though I had my doubts, it rose, both before being placed in the oven, and during its 25-minute bake, and when finally taken out, the brushing of canola oil (as opposed to the traditional egg-wash) had done its trick, with a soft brown sheen seen throughout the crust.


The true test, of course, was how it tasted! And you know, it was surprisingly soft, chewy, and sweet. The parents enjoyed it, but the kids devoured it, and that says a lot, yes?!

A few takeaways that stuck with me from this experience:

First, I never appreciated just how much of our food contains egg products. To be restricted to egg-free fare takes a LOT of effort, and I can imagine folks could feel “left out” at times when navigating culinary offerings out in the world. And for those who are gluten-intolerant, the same lesson applies.

Second, there are alternatives to dishes with eggs that are not too difficult. It just takes a little research and a little flexibility, and patience with oneself as one ventures into this new territory.

And finally, accommodating someone’s food allergy can make the receiver feel appreciative, but it also makes the maker or provider of the food feel good as well, knowing that everyone, and not just most, can partake of and enjoy the meal at hand. It happened on Friday night with challah, and it happened on Sunday, when we served vegan cupcakes for Aviva’s Birthday celebration, with Milo in mind when ordering. My, how those Saturn Café delicacies (both chocolate and carrot varieties) were literally out-of-this world, pun intended!

Week 34: "Early in the Morn'!"

Daniel Barash

The familiar chimes of my alarm lull me from sleep…it’s 5 AM. I quickly dress, tiptoe downstairs, and slip into my car. Destination: Bay Bridge…

This was the scene last Wednesday morning. Why at some ridiculously early hour was I doing this? Evidently I had volunteered to work the pre-dawn phone lines of KQED’s Spring Pledge-Drive. As longtime listeners of this great local station, who had long ago tired of never-ending pledge-drives, we became sustaining members many years ago, and have never looked back! In choosing to become sustaining members, rather than having to renew again each year, I think back to the Shabbat table of my youth, where as I described in Week 14, my parents would wish for “sustenance for all” as part of the weekly “toast.” The relationship between “sustenance” (something that gives support, endurance, or strength) and “sustain” (to supply with sustenance) provided the clear choice to support KQED in a sustained, committed way, thankful of course that we have the resources to contribute in this way.

But while we give regularly, my ears perked up a few weeks ago when the morning hosts asked for volunteers to help with upcoming on-air pledge-breaks. What would it be like to give of my time, and not just monetary resources, to something in which I deeply believed?

One of the interesting results of the Challah-it-Forward endeavor has been the spillover effect of “giving back” in other areas of our lives. My “volunteer antennae” are receptive in new ways, and I’m more inclined to actually say “yes” when asked. In the process, I’ve often gained new appreciations and perspectives regarding the important work to which many people in fact devote their lives, often in very behind-the-scenes, unheralded ways.

Thus, when the City of Berkley had a Shoreline Cleanup in the Fall, Aviva and I went; through the act of picking up huge amounts of trash, I became more thankful for the beauty that we normally experience when we go down to the Marina, and appreciative of the folks who regularly pick-up the trash to keep this gem of place healthy and safe.

The question remains: Can one obtain new appreciations so early in the morning, particularly when one is not a coffee drinker? I was about to find out!

The first thing that made an impression on me as I approached the station last week was the actual building; to see the letters K-Q-E-D emblazoned above the entrance was somewhat thrilling, I must admit! Our associations of radio include all the places I LISTEN to the radio--in the kitchen, in the car, even in bed (waking up and going to sleep!). But when do we think about WHERE the programming is made? And WHO is responsible for making it happen, day in and day out? From the writers, to the producers, to the on-air talent, to the off-air building engineering crew?

After signing in and riding the elevator to the second floor, the entire cast of Downtown Abbey greeted me and pointed me in the direction of the on-air studio; how often does THAT happen?!

Right this way...

Right this way...

Before our formal “phone volunteer training,” it was wonderful to get to know some of the other morning volunteers. There was a retiree from Burlingame, a soon-to be grandfather from Walnut Creek, a young social worker from Petaluma, to give just a few examples of those sitting at my table. It was interesting to see that “my” radio station in fact belongs to so many kinds of people, and fills so many needs and interests…

And then came the pledge-breaks; I’ve never quite experienced anything like them. While I had initially thought that a “three-hour shift” meant being on the phone continuously throughout the morning, a steady but slow queue of calls, in reality it’s a fair amount of waiting patiently during regular programming, interspersed with 8-minute “Cacophonies of Calls.” What was a quiet room full of volunteers suddenly becomes a busy call center, with phones ringing off the hook, and voices chirping “Thank you for calling in today, and how much would you like to pledge this morning?”

While answering phones might appear to be a simple task, in this rapid-fire environment, the first calls were adrenaline-raising and somewhat terrifying, for there were so many opportunities to make mistakes; how much is the donation, is it a one-time or sustaining pledge, which on-air bonus gift will you be choosing, what is your name, email, and address, will you be paying by credit card or check?…the list go on. Couple that with computer programming glitches that pop-up unexpectedly, and you can begin to understand how the pulse quickens. Luckily, my first few callers were extremely patient and kind. They completely understood when I fumbled, and in fact thanked me for giving my time so early in the morning.

Which leads me to perhaps the biggest take-away of the morning; from now on, I will try my best (and will sometimes fail) to be much more patient and yes, kind, with whomever I happen to encounter during a telephone call. Whether it’s a solicitation call from the Democratic National Convention Committee (which seems to reach out weekly!), technical support help from around the world, or a customer service call for a billing error, I will now honor the PEOPLE on the other side of the line, who must make or take hundreds of calls per day, many from rude and disrespectful folks, who find phone conversations like this easy and somewhat anonymous opportunities to vent their own frustrations that have nothing to do with the call at hand; I know, for I speak from experience here…

To carry the lesson a bit further, what I’ve really learned is to focus on the “humanity” of “human interactions,” be they on the phone or in person, with the goal of giving everyone with whom I come into contact the dignity and respect that we all deserve…of course, easier said than done, but I'm going to try!

Week 33: "Stepping Inside"

Daniel Barash

“I’m a Challah Artist!” Aviva proudly proclaimed last Friday as she painted our loaves with egg-wash before they were placed in the oven. And you know what—she’s right! Looking back almost nine months ago, when we began this project, Aviva didn’t have a lot of dexterity with the brush; awkwardly clutching it, she would half-paint each loaf, with Abba Daniel acting as the sweeper, making sure there was somewhat even coverage throughout.

But last week, she was all about precision, focus, and attention to detail. Gently dipping the brush into the egg wash, she then carefully coated each challah, gingerly dabbing all the nooks and crannies. What a difference nine months makes! Week after week, month after month, one cannot help but start to learn the tricks of the trade, the techniques, so to speak!

"I'm a Challah Artist!"

"I'm a Challah Artist!"

After the piping hot loaves came out of the oven, we walked down the street to our monthly stop at the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center (WDDC), an amazing organization that for more than a quarter century has been providing support services to homeless women and their children. On our previous visits, however, we didn’t really venture much beyond the front door. Zoe Thiele-Seidenberg, the center’s incredible Volunteer Coordinator, would come to greet us, accept the challah, and thank Aviva for the tasty loaf that was sure to be enjoyed by visiting women and children throughout the day.

Over the last couple of visits, I’ve felt it was time for Aviva to see a bit more of the Center’s environment and rhythms, while at the same time respecting the privacy of the visiting women and their families. When I mentioned this to Zoe, she immediately suggested that we drop-off the challah early on the Friday before Mother’s Day, as we could then see them prepare for a special breakfast “celebrating the women of the center, and the role they play in each others lives, that of their children and community!”

After we arrived, Zoe led us past the front lobby and into the kitchen / dining room area, where we immediately smelled fresh pancakes being prepared and saw plentiful bottles of syrup (Aviva’s favorite!). As pancakes and french toast are regular parts of our weekend mornings, I suddenly realized how much we as a family often take these special meals for granted, and as a given.

Peering next into the kitchen, we were treated to the sight of a bowl full of bright red starberries. After seeing the look in Aviva’s eyes, she was of course offered the sweet taste of some of these wonder-fruits. Again, something we take for granted every week, as we often come home from Monterey Market with fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries.

Finally, we stepped into the living room, which in addition to chairs, sofas, and magazines, features literally hundreds of photographic portraits of women and their children who have benefited from WDDC’s support programs. All the photos have been taken by a longtime Center volunteer. Aviva was clearly entranced, staring for quite a while at the pictures in front of her. Although she saw the faces, and the beauty held therein, she could not yet appreciate the painful stories that so many of these women and children have lived. And on the flip side, she could not possibly understand the extremely important role that WDDC plays in the lives of those who visit the Center. In time…

Speaking of time, before we left for the day, we invited Zoe to spend some time baking with us for an upcoming “Challah-it-Forward” Thursday-night-bake. She was touched, and informed Aviva that she has never made challah before, and would be honored to join in the fun.

Aviva smiled her warm smile before quickly burying her head in Abba’s shoulder. First Aviva the “Challah Artist,” and now Aviva the “Challah Teacher!” They grow up so fast!

Shabbat Shalom to you and yours…

Week 32: "Connecting Across the Generations"

Daniel Barash

On the first Friday of every month, we “Challah-it-Forward” to the Chaparral House, an amazing eldercare facility down the street that I’ve featured in earlier posts. Entering our seventh month(!) on this challah journey, I can look back on these visits with a bit of perspective that only comes with time.

The visits all have a distinct rhythm and ritual. When I arrive to set-up at 4:20, a small group is assembled in the living room, watching the last few minutes of a “classic movie” on the large television. These films were of course not “classic” when residents first saw them, more than 50 years ago on the big screen. I sometimes wonder what those cinematic experiences might have been like for them. How old were they? Did they go with their sweetheart? Did they order sodas and candy?

Challah, Kiddush cup, and candles.

Challah, Kiddush cup, and candles.

As the final movie credits roll across the screen, Aviva always helps me place our fresh bread under the embroidered challah cover. And then, when the residents’ wheel-chairs have all been turned to create a semi-circle, the Sabbath ritual begins. I offer a hearty “Shabbat Shalom” to all that are present (usually between 7-10 residents), and then lead them in song. There is the standard Shabbat fare like “Bim Bam,” and “Lecha Dodi.” But I also always include a selection of standard songs that might have some resonance with them, songs that they can remember and relate to from their past. It’s fun to make connections between the awe of Shabbat and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “Blue Skies.”

Sometimes there are definite responses from participants: one might appear to be forming the words with her mouth, another might be tapping a finger in rhythm, while another might gently clap at the end of each song. But often there is no response, rather what apears to be a hollow stare.

Looking back, my expectations about these visits have changed. When I first started back in September, I expected to be warmly received, to elicit a kind of heartfelt acknowledgement. I soon discovered that with the population that I’m visiting, it is not always clear how outwardly engaged they are. And if they are engaged internally, they might not be able to express it verbally or physically. And it’s dawned on me that with the passage of time and their growing difficulty with memory formation and recall, many individuals may be less aware of our song and challah sharings with each passing month.

While I’m not sure about the awareness of the elders, I am definitely cognizant of how Aviva is becoming much more aware with each visit. At the age of four, her memory capacity is growing ever stronger, as she is asking questions about the world and “putting the pieces together” with each new experience.

In some ways, I think Aviva is somewhat uncomfortable during our time at Chaparral. Most adults in her life actively engage with her, asking her questions, finding out what she’s interested in, participating in activities with her. Here at Chaparral, she is often, though definitely not always, met with blanks stares.

In some ways I too am uncomfortable during these visits! I think of the elders in my own circles who very well may experience the challenges of aging, both physically and cognitively. And I look even further down the road, when I and my contemporaries may personally face these challenges.

As a society, I think we don’t very often have to confront end-of-life issues on a regular basis. Part of this is due to a culture of separation; in more traditional societies, both children and elders may very well live in the same home, where the circle of life is both seen and celebrated. Today, with increasing numbers of elders living away from their families (many, I should say, receiving excellent care that directly addresses their needs, and many that are not as fortunate), I think we have a hard time relating to them, and therefore become fearful of interacting in meaningful ways.

What I have noticed on a personal level is that with each visit to Chaparral, I have become a little less fearful, and a little more emboldened to make the one-on-one connections that I’ve come to appreciate. At each month’s visit, I now make it a point to personally walk around the room and say a “Shabbat Shalom” to each resident in attendance, both at the beginning and at the end of my time there. There is something incredibly connective about physically shaking someone’s hand, looking them in the eye, and wishing them well. And though sometimes Aviva still hides behind my leg as I’m doing this, it is my hope that with each passing month, she too will become a little less fearful, and a little more emboldened to connect with these aging individuals.

A warm Shabbat Shalom to you and your famiies…