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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!