Last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting Gan Mah Tov Preschool in Oakland, to Challah-it-Forward with the little ones. On Thursday, the children made dough from scratch, pouring, whisking, and kneading with their tiny but powerful hands. On Friday morning, they had braided big, beautiful loaves, and fresh-baked aromas filled the hallways when I arrived.
After meeting with the children and sharing the Challah-it-Forward folktale, the time to give was at hand! Holding beautifully arranged baskets of bread, the kids journeyed through the building, surprising the rabbis, an office administrator, and the janitor with fresh challahs.
The excitement was palpable, and the hallways were filled with “giddy jumps, smiles, and laughter,” in the words of preschool director Anna Weininger. She also relayed that “while the idea of gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) can be abstract for young children, baking challahs for others is something children can relate to.” The children’s joy reminded me of the warm, excited feelings that Mendel experienced in the folktale after initially leaving challahs in the ark. It is my belief that this kind of joy, literally felt by their whole beings (both mind and body), might contribute to the foundation of a life of giving, caring, and connecting with those in the wider community.
And on the flip side, the recipients conveyed such surprise and appreciation for having received this Sabbath treat. How often do we receive un-solicited gifts like this in our daily lives? And how much happier might we all be if we were on the giving and receiving ends of heartfelt gift-giving on a regular basis?
After the challah deliveries, I performed a puppet version of “Challahs in the Ark.” Children watched as shadows flickered across the screen, recounting the story with ephemeral contrasts of darkness and light. Near the end of the show, the children marched behind the screen one-by-one with shadow puppet challahs, representing the act of giving that took place over weeks, months, and years.
We finished the day with a Shabbat celebration that included, of course, the partaking of fresh, homemade challah. After the children said the ceremonial blessings and started to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, I wondered whether the challahs tasted perhaps a bit sweeter than usual, a bit more satisfying, as the children may have felt on some deeper level that this challah was truly a symbol of the sharing and caring that create community.
Until next week…