This week I am proud to introduce the first "Challah-it-Forward" Guest Challah Bloggah! Guest bloggers will share insights about their own challah-making journey with family, friends, and the wider community. For the first such post, I've chosen my dad, Harvey Barash, who had a very unique challah-baking tradition with my grandmother Hilda. Enjoy!
I was thrilled to learn about Daniel's project of making challah with Aviva and sharing a portion of each week's loaves with others.
When he asked me several weeks ago to be a guest blogger, I was honored by his invitation and enthusiastically accepted. The invitation came because he remembered that I had once-upon-a-time baked challah weekly over a span of about 10 years with my mother Hilda, Daniel’s grandmother.
Instead of a father in his early 40's and his three-year-old daughter, this was a mother in her 70's and a son in his 50's. That mother is now deceased, having passed away 10 years ago at age 88, and that son is me, now age 75. I am Aviva's grandfather, known to my grandchildren as Zeide Laser (signed "Zdlsr" in text messages).
Of note is the fact that both of my parents had been deaf and unable to speak since very early childhood. Sign language and lip reading was the way we communicated within our family. We were close-knit and from the beginning my sister and I spent many long hours with our parents, often acting as their interpreters, from the time we were children on into our adult years. Thus, after completing my medical training, I returned to Madison with my wife and four sons (of whom Daniel is the youngest) and from the get-go started having lunch with my father at a nearby Chinese restaurant after I finished my work at the hospital.
Following my father's sudden death in 1987, I decided that Wednesday afternoons would be my time with my mom. She was a consummate baker, excelling in baking various breads and desserts (including banana cake, banana pie, lemon pie, upside down pineapple cake, chocolate chip cookies, and much more). Of course, challah was a big part of her repertoire! For as long as I can remember from my earliest childhood days, I can recall the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread wafting throughout our home. Thus, it was easy for us to decide to start baking challah together at her home in her kitchen in preparation for our family’s weekly Shabbat meals together.
She was a baker ‘par excellence’ and was thrilled that she would be my teacher, and of course, I was delighted to be her student. I remember especially how expertly she kneaded the dough, so artfully and efficiently. I was much stronger than she and had larger hands, yet she regularly had to give me critical pointers. I don't think that in the 10 years of baking challah together I was ever able to match her precision and technique. God forbid, that I might ever mention using a bread machine to do this important work, corrupting the purity of kneading by hand. Likewise, she was able to braid the dough beautifully and effortlessly, while I struggled trying to make my loaves look like hers.
Our challah recipe was not some rare secret formula. We used standard ingredients, but we did add sugar giving a sweeter taste than most. In addition, we routinely added raisins to half the batter, providing a choice of loaves with and without raisins.
Because my mother was unable to hear, it was my habit to stamp on the floor to get her attention, but she forbade this as well as closing doors with force and other loud noises and vibrations while baking challah, claiming that stamping would prevent the dough from rising properly.
Word about my mother and I baking challah together made its way around the Madison Jewish community, and after a few years we were invited to give a “challah baking” presentation as part of a Sabbath workshop. It was well attended and Hilda was especially happy and proud of the enthusiastic responses of our students.
Those Wednesday afternoons baking together through the years were memorable and I will cherish them forever. I am planning to soon partake in this lovely activity when we visit Aviva in December! I'm quite certain that my mother would be delighted to know that her great granddaughter is now making challah with her “abba.” The tradition continues, from generation to generation...