“Do you have any challah left?” I asked into my phone.
“Any what?” the person on the other end asked with confusion.
“Challah!”I repeated louder.
My mother was doubled over with laughter in the front seat of the car. I was visiting home in Madison, Wisconsin and wanted to secure some challah. Although both of my mother’s parents were Jewish, I was not raised Jewish. As a young adult, I began to explore my Judaism, and ever since learning more about Shabbat at GatherDC’s first Beyond the Tent retreat, I have really embraced the spirit of the tradition. I have found meaning in my own versions of the Shabbat rituals, including wine, challah, and candles.
When I realized my trip home included Friday night, I was determined to find some challah. My mom urged me to reserve a loaf prior to stopping by the store, which turned out to be a very good idea. As she drove me through town, she heard me calling store after store. Convinced that Madison, a very progressive small city, would have a bakery staff that knew of challah, it didn’t occur to me to change my script. So, for three or four phone calls my mother heard me say, I asked “Do you have a challah left?” They did not seem to understand the question. So, I asked it louder – as if volume was the problem. I yelled, “CHALLAH!” into the phone. My mom found this hilarious.
This was not the first place I struggled to secure challah. A few months earlier, on a trip to South Africa and Madagascar, I won the challah battle in Johannesburg when I found out that South Africans call it “kitke” making it easy to secure the familiar braid. I hosted a lovely Shabbat in the courtyard of my hotel, complete with kitke, a local Pinotage, and candles stuck in empty beer bottle holders. A week later in Madagascar, I was not so lucky. But I used a brioche-like loaf instead, and, to my delight, it was equally meaningful.
My quest for challah has also played out in Key West, New Orleans, Colombia, and Belize. But perhaps the most entertaining was last summer in Petoskey, Michigan. Petoskey is a small but amazing place on the northern part of the lower peninsula in Michigan. I was annoyed when I went to a large grocery store and managed to find a sushi stand, but no challah. Undeterred, I called around to each store in the town. Realizing from my time in Madison that running out of Challah didn’t seem to be the concern, I shifted my question slightly.
“Do you have any challah?”
Next call. “Do you have any challah?”
Alas, that Shabbat I wound up serving a delicious loaf of grainy whole wheat bread instead. Although not what I envisioned, that bread still served its purpose: making me slow down, be grateful, and mark the beginning of a dedicated time for rest and reflection. That Shabbat, just like all the ones with the wonder of challah, was free from the daily grind, and filled with connection, family, and joy.
About the Author: Meleia is an avid “Gather Groupie” and 8-year resident of DC. Gather has helped Meleia find her people, find her place, and find her path to her own meaningful Jewish identity and community. She is self proclaimed “pathological optimist” who loves yoga, bird watching, and travel.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.