Three days before the start of Rosh Hashanah, a bustle of activity was heard and smelled from the softly lighted pavilion behind the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon.
There, a group of about 50 women of all ages prepared fresh challah in a gathering rooted in tradition, family and love. The bread made from scratch would be part of the family celebrations of the Jewish New Year that began at sundown on Sunday and ended Tuesday night.
At one table, three generations of Greenbergs were fists deep in fresh dough, conversation and laughter as part of the temple’s annual Challah Bake led by Miriam Greenberg, wife of Rabbi Zushe Greenberg.
“I’m here with my daughter, granddaughter and daughter-in-law,” Mrs. Greenberg, of Solon, said with a warm smile. “There’s nothing better – just being together.”
Mrs. Greenberg recalled baking challah with her mother for the holiday and now is sharing the tradition with her family.
Jewish rituals are something that should be done with family, her daughter Carrie Kanfer, of Solon, continued, “and it is a fun time to get everyone involved.
“Being Jewish is about culture, family and friends,” she said.
Mrs. Greenberg’s daughter-in-law Shoshana Greenberg, of Solon, worked side by side with her daughter Eliana, 11, a student at Orchard Middle School.
“I love the Jewish values,” Shoshana said. She and her daughter braided the dough together then baked it at home in preparation for their holiday dinner.
The High Holidays are marked with the reading of the Torah, blowing of the shofar and festive meals including apples dipped in honey to represent the New Year. The holidays include Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement that begins at sunset on Sept. 18.
“I love that she loves doing it,” Shoshana said of her daughter, while gently offering instruction on mixing the dough. “I remember making challah at home. I hope this is something she always enjoys doing.”
“This is a custom that is special, and we can all do in honor of Rosh Hashanah,” Miriam Greenberg said to the women gathered. She instructed them to grab the recipe and the ingredients, all symbolic, including yeast, water, sugar, salt, oil, eggs and flour.
“Help each other and have fun,” Miriam said enthusiastically into the microphone. “Aprons are here, and let’s go.”
Miriam explained that the recipe for the annual bake came from her mother Devora. She recalled the delicious smell of the fresh bread coming from the oven as a child.
“It’s all about tradition,” Miriam said. “Fresh challah can’t be beat.”
The group of bakers made the dough through the second rise, and then were instructed to place them in silver trays to take home.
“Let it rise, and bake it all together,” Miriam said.
Miriam’s daughter Leah, one of nine children of the rabbi and his wife, said the braiding was her favorite part of making challah. She separated her dough in perfect lines, then began a twisted braid. She reserved other dough for a round braid.
Leah, 13, a student at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, said she enjoys eating her challah with salad and a variety of dips.
Leah’s sister Mushkie Galperin, 27, the eldest of the Greenberg’s children, said the first thing that comes to mind when she thinks of challah was her sister’s Bat Mitzvah which incorporated a challah bake celebration. “Not only did we celebrate, but everyone made a batch of challah.” One batch was to take home and another to donate, Ms. Galperin recalled.
“I love Rosh Hashanah,” she continued. “It’s so special to see so many people come together.”
Ms. Galperin said her family likes to make dip for the challah bread, such as out of olives or eggplant.
At one point during the evening, which also featured wine and hors d’oeuvres, Miriam told the group to separate out one piece of the challah dough, about the size of an egg, and donate it. She then read a blessing in Hebrew which translated into, “whenever we make something, we share with others.”
Miriam also led the group in an instruction on round braiding techniques.
The annual Challah Bake for mothers and daughters is one of several the temple presents, Miriam said. Past bakes were done at the preschool with the children and their mothers and during the summer camps.
Solon resident Lauren Blaugrund, 17, said she came to the bake because she enjoys making the challah as a volunteer at the temple’s preschool and as a camp counselor.
“I always remember making it every Friday with the preschool and campers, and we always have it on the holidays,” said Lauren, a student at Solon High School.
At the same table, Sydney Levy, 16, of Solon worked alongside her mother Susan.
Mrs. Levy said each holiday, they visit their in-laws after temple and have the challah as part of their lunch.
“It’s one of our special traditions,” Sydney said.