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Baking Challah with the Interfaith Council

A Report by Alli Wessells ('14)

Kosher Kitchen
February 21st, 2013

Students begin to mix the dough for challah

There is an Egyptian proverb: “Rather a piece of bread with a happy heart than wealth with grief.” With this sentiment in mind, two student-led organizations came together to bake bread for charity. The Interfaith Council, a new organization founded by the Center of Religious and Spiritual Life, joined Smith College Hillel at the Kosher Kitchen adjacent to Dawes house. The bread made by participants was delivered the following day to the Interfaith Cot Shelter in Northampton.

At Hillel, there is challah (with a soft C) baking every Thursday night for Friday night dinner. However, the Thursday of February 21st differed from most Thursdays, due to the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim. Along with the festive, costumed atmosphere that Purim parties bring amongst friends, there is also an obligation to see to the well-being of others, even strangers.

The Interfaith Council gladly joined in the opportunity to share in the good works.  Baking bread was also a huge draw for participants who enjoyed the opportunity to dig their fingers in soft dough or create an intricate braid out of ropes of bread. Crystal Card, ’16, found some comfort in the familiar scene as she bakes bread with her mother back home.

Detail of the intricate braid of the challah

Leah Balay-Wilson, 15, enjoys the precision that comes with making challah. A regular at Hillel’s Thursday night Challah baking events, Balay-Wilson created some very intricate braids out of her dough. The hardest part of the baking process for her is “waiting,” a necessary evil when dealing with dough that needs to rise. The comfortable couch and hot tea make the wait easier, along with good conversation.

Red Uttomark, ’16, was curious about the Purim “requirement” of giving charity and the Jewish Student Advisor, Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser was happy to explain it as not being an obligation so much as a different kind of intention. Because Purim is a joyful holiday, which falls on a joyful month (Adar), everyone therefore should have the opportunity to feel happy, whether giving or receiving.

Members of the IFC and Interfaith Fellow Matilda Cantwell mix dough while the Jewish Student Advisor, Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser looks on and offers advice

Matilda Cantwell, the Interfaith Fellow, added that she is grateful that “the poor give us the opportunity to do good works.” She also enjoyed the intimacy of baking bread with students who have different faith-based backgrounds, molding “diversity into unity.” The hands-on application of the braiding came to symbolize the strands of different faiths woven together, as Shapiro-Rieser pointed out later that evening.

That Friday, Cantwell and Card took the bread to the Interfaith Cot Shelter in downtown Northampton. Card was especially enthusiastic about the journey, noting her pride that the “IFC is more aware of local programs in Northampton” with people who are “very friendly and welcoming and eager to work with us.” The experience was so rewarding for Card that she hopes to be “a part of bringing food down [to the cot shelter] again.”