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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…