His First Challah


My Shabbes dinner may have failed, but one of its many mishaps led to an unexpected success. Remember the challah dough that refused to rise? I couldn’t bear to throw it away, so I put it in the fridge, thinking it might rise slowly anyway. It did. On Sunday morning, when reaching in for the organic margarine, I noticed that the rubbery lump had puffed into a convincing mound. It was worth a try. The Toddler loves to make challah, so I started cutting the dough into pieces he could roll into snakes. (The Teenager also loves this part, but she was, of course, still asleep, and waking her early on a Sunday morning is not conducive to shalom bayit.)

    My husband was puttering around the kitchen, getting in my way, and I suddenly wondered something: had he, in his entire life, ever made challah? So, I asked. “No,” he said, and then told me to blame it on his Conservadox, chauvanistic upbringing that he had never been given the opportunity to make challah. It had never occurred to him that making challah was an option then or since: not, in fact, until that very minute, standing next to his son who was patiently awaiting his own little portion of dough. “Have a seat,” I suggested, plopping dough down in front of both of them.
    I told the Toddler to show Daddy how to make snakes, and he did. Daddy needed a lot of showing, but he was a very good sport.
    As if this milestone wasn’t already making me a bit misty-eyed, my husband suddenly stopped his futile attempts at braiding and announced he was having a flashback. “Grandma Bessie used to make challah. I used to watch her roll it back and forth and dip her fingers into a glass of orange juice.” Orange juice? It sounded weird but technically plausible, and it sounded like my husband had just made an unexpected connection with a generation long ago and far away. Grandma Bessie, whom I never met, was mother to my husband’s father, whom I also never met. The Toddler is named after this Zaydie, Grandma Bessie’s younger boy. So here we were, in a Tennessee kitchen aeons away from these good, dead, loved people; strangers to two of us, but we were all together. In that one instant the time and distance between these four generations seemed to contract, to tessellate, to bring all of us into alignment again and for the first time.

    And all because I messed up Shabbes dinner.

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By the way, the finished challot turned out beautifully: lumpy, crooked braids and all. I stuck them in the freezer for next week.
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