PHOTOS: Hundreds of women discover the power of Challah at Great Big Challah Bake in Lakewood

img_8453Flour. Yeast. Water. Oil. Sugar. Salt. Eggs. That’s the standard, age-old challah recipe. But what happens when you add some less typical ingredients?

On Thursday, November 10, hundreds of women discovered the power of challah.

Inspiration. Unity. Energy. Vibrancy. Spirit. Soul. Joy.

In the span of a mere four years, a humble gathering in a faraway country evolved to a global phenomenon, touching thousands of people worldwide with immeasurably far-reaching effects.

The Shabbat Project was founded by Rabbi Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa, with a singular goal: to draw Jews of all varieties closer, encouraging unanimity and the celebration of our treasured heritage in the 25 hours of just one Shabbos.

His first Shabbat Project was a revolutionary gathering of affiliated and unaffiliated South African Jews. That first assembly effectively exploded into a grassroots movement that spans the world. The concept is still delightfully simple: invite an unaffiliated Jew to observe and experience a true Shabbos. Its reach, however, is anything but simple; this year’s Shabbat Project included participants from nearly 1,000 cities worldwide, from unheard-of towns in Colombia and Uganda to exotic locales in Italy and the Caribbean.

For the past two years, under the auspices of Project Inspire, Lakewood has proudly joined the list of participating locations. In the days leading up to the Shabbos, a related event takes place: the much-anticipated Great Big Jersey Shore Challah Bake.

At 7:00 Thursday evening, over 500 women and girls of all ages and backgrounds arrived at Lake Terrace – decked out in pink and black, with giant alphabetical challahs and Flour Power décor by Chavi Chase of Pret-a-Partee – to take part in a unique experience. Upon entry to the hall, every attendee was presented with a name tag and apron, then ceremoniously ushered to her designated table – with a calculated blend of seatmates – laid beautifully with pre-measured challah ingredients and essentials. “Challah Coaches” (volunteer facilitators assigned to each table) mingled, greeting guests and creating an atmosphere fairly crackling with electricity.

The program kicked off with the buoyant energy of Chavi Chase, who grandly welcomed all participants and introduced vivacious emcee Shimi Adar, entertainer extraordinaire and dance teacher from Brooklyn.

Shimi’s appearance was followed by guest speaker Judi Franco, popular – and observant – radio talk show host on 101.5 FM, extolling the unified ambiance among the enormously diverse crowd of Jewish women present.

Next up: a succinct yet evocative address by Lauren Roth, LSW who educated those assembled on the basics of the Shabbat Project, the reasons behind the mitzvah of challah, and the connection between women and this particular deed.

Challah demonstrator Sarah Lasry approached the podium to begin the challah-baking process. While she demonstrated, every woman proofed, stirred, and kneaded her pre-portioned ingredients to yield two challahs to take home with her for Shabbos. Lauren Roth took the stage again to explain the process and magnitude of hafrashas challah; coaches encouraged their participants to share their prayers with one another during that crucial moment.

As every woman covered her dough to allow it to rise, we were honored introduce holocaust survivor Celia Markovitz, who is also known as Bubby Bubby by her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and their friends.  In memory of her siblings and parents who perished during the holocaust, and with four generations of her family present and in the zchus of her granddaughters, she lit a candle, and made an emotional bracha, followed by a poignant song sung by Reena Marton.

A powerful moment ensued while everyone offered silent tefillos, spending 60 seconds connecting with Hashem and with the essence of the mitzvah and concluding with a rousing chorus of Amen as Sarah recited the bracha over her batch of dough. The room exploded with music, dancing, and an indescribable bond between women who had been strangers just hours before.

The guests reluctantly dispersed, leaving on a high of spirituality, connection, and vigor; many walked out with guests or hosts for Shabbos and fledgling relationships.

The most extraordinary aspect of the Challah Bake was the sense of belonging, the sense of unity and kinship, and the inexpressible sense of being part of a massive worldwide revolution.

Plans for the next Great Big Challah Bake are already underway; you won’t want to miss it! To get involved, email [email protected]

To learn more about the Shabbos Project, visit

We thank our sponsors of The Great Big Jersey Shore Challah Bake and Project Inspire for their guidance and direction in planning all aspects of this event. Photo Credits: Faigy Murray Photography.


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