Challah pastries are more than just Challah pastries – even at YU
Growing up, friends and family of former YU student Raquel Sofer (SCW ’19) had participated in challah bakes led by a prominent figure in her community: Rabbanit Sarah Levy. When Rabbanit Levy passed away, the tradition continued in her memory and was led by another local Rabanit and Sofer’s mother and grandmother. (Challah bakes are events where attendees learn the mitzvah of challah and have fun baking it together.)
When Sofer came to YU, she was surprised that the Jewish institution had never held a challah pastry. Coming from a home where challah was baked, Sofer had personally experienced the beauty of the mitzvah and wanted to bring it to Beren’s students, many of whom had never baked challah and were unaware of its meaning. . As president of the International Club, Sofer felt she was in a unique position to achieve this.
Every year, Jewish communities around the world take part in the Shabbat Project, a movement that unites Jews to experience Shabbat together. This extended weekend begins with a Thursday night challah bake. Although his childhood challah bakes were not affiliated with the Shabbat Project, Sofer decided to run the 2017 YU Challah Bake in affiliation with the movement.
The project struggled to get off the ground. There were many technical issues, including funding and getting approval to hold a large event that included food preparation, in addition to receiving permission to use the cafeteria ovens at the school. With the help of the teachers from the Office of Student Life and the International Club, Sofer worked hard to make the event happen despite the obstacles. She raised funds and worked to secure supplies and a speaker for the event. She packed bags with bowls, aprons and booklets that explained the mitzvah while she was at home in Panama over the holidays and convinced people to help bring them back to Beren. With only three weeks until the event and many hurdles standing, many doubted the event would happen, but Sofer knew that if she could initiate it, there would be an infrastructure in place to continue it year after year.
Although it was not easy to coordinate, over 200 people attended the event, and it was a resounding success. For some participants, it was “the first time [baking] challah, and [they] were really grateful for this amazing opportunity,” Sofer recalled. She was grateful to have had the chance to make a difference. “My mom taught me that you can always make an impact, no matter how big or small,” she continued. Aside from last year’s cancellation due to COVID-19, Sofer’s dream of instituting challah baking as an annual event has continued to come true. Pre-COVID attendance was high, with 250-300 women participating in the 2019 challah baking.
Baking challah is a fun way to unite the student body in learning about mitzvah cooking challah. “It’s huge and so special to bring all these women together to do a mitzvah!” International club co-president Lara Amar (SCW ’22) told the commentator.
The costs associated with the event are high – requiring around $3,000 to $4,000 – so the international club organizes fundraising campaigns to pay for it. Much of the funding comes from alumni, but YU sponsors much of the cost.
This year, the YU Challah Bake was held on October 28 at the Koch Auditorium on the Beren campus, where it is traditionally held. Due to COVID-19 and the fact that the event coincided with the midterm week, attendance was lower this year than in previous years, with only around 70 attendees. Anyway, the event was a huge success.
The students had a great time discovering hafrashat challah and get to know each other better. The event included three guest speakers – Danielle Immerman, Adela Cojab and Sheli Fouzailoff – who spoke about their experiences as active religious women. “They gave us incredible insight into how to [stay] religious in their [respective] areas of work, and it was truly inspiring to hear them talk about what motivated them to do what they do,” said Sharon Benzaquen, International Club Co-Chair (SCW ’24).
“It was a beautiful event,” she continued. “Having 70 girls in a room doing a significant mitzvah and seeing the impact it had on everyone was really special to me.” The event has become an integral part of YU student life on campus.
The challah baking is accompanied by a co-ed Shabbaton held on the Beren campus, which will take place on November 19. !” said Amar, regarding the upcoming Shabbat.
The club also continued an initiative launched in 2018, known as the “Pick-a-Mitzvah” campaign. This involves choosing a new mitzvah to focus on for the Shabbat project week, with the hope of continuing it for the rest of the year. The campaign started in Panama five years ago and has now spread around the world.
Photo caption: YU Challah Bake
Photo credit: Lena Ohayon