Itâ€™s motzei Shabbos just minutes to havdallah. My husband and sons are in shul and Iâ€™m home alone clearing up after shalosh seudos. On the table sits quarter of a hallah, soft and fluffy on the inside, crusty, dark and sesame flecked on the outside, still fresh even now, as the Shabbos draws to a close. I pick it up, fondling it in my hand for a moment before I pack it away . Harei Zeh Hallah. This is the challah, The best challah Iâ€™ve ever baked, since starting out almost two decades ago with the the Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook as my guide.
The hallah recipe came form a Boro Park woman named Devorah Heller who is known far and wide as the Hallah maven, a title she truly deserves. What makes this story truly remarkable is that I found the recipe in the the pages of a hareidi womanâ€™s magazine and I hate hareidi womens magazines. Really hate, Emphatically Hate, Hate Hate. Yuck Yuck Yuck!!!!!
I just hate them. They make me feel so weird and out of place that after even a quick leaf through Iâ€™m (almost) tempted to toss off my sheitel and crawl back into my long discarded blue jeans.
The tragic part is that I so wanted to love them. When they first hit the stands I thought that my dream was coming true. My two great loves writing and yiddishkeit together at last in one glossy printed, neatly stapled package (with plenty of bylines by yours truly, retired journalist on the comeback trail, of course). What I was hoping for was a glatt kosher version of the New Yorker sans the kefira and the erotic ads but what I got instead was Martha Stewart with a wig.
After driving for close to an hour to buy the first edition of one of these mags I called a good friend and kindred spirit to vent my distress.
â€œItâ€™s not for people like us, â€œ she said. â€œ Just donâ€™t buy it. â€œ. I tried following her advice but somehow, every time I passed the newsstand, the magazines beckoned.
â€œJust one more timeâ€ I told myself. â€œ Maybe this week, there would be a clever short story, a well drawn essay, something something I could share with my hypercritical New York Times reading mother. And every week I was disappointed.
What were they printing? Articles about silverware, backpacks, teenagers, in-laws, buying guides for items I didnâ€™t want or need. and rhyming Hallmark card poetry
Somehow, I had, quite ridiculously come to equate these publications with Yiddishkeit. Did the fact that they werenâ€™t my style, meant that Yiddishkeit wasnâ€™t my style either? I was no longer sure.
Then I discovered the hallah recipe. After years of baking dry, dense loaves my great joy at experiencing baking success washed away a good deal of my anger and doubt. I started to rethink my dilemma until I reached a startling conclusion. The problem wasnâ€™t with the magazines, it was with me.
I was playing a ridiculous, game, as they say, looking for the proverbial oranges among the dibbles and clamps at the hardware store. These magazines didnâ€™t want to compete with the New Yorker. They were never going to be the New Yorker or even Harpers but that didnâ€™t mean that they were entirely without value in G-dâ€™s world and in my life.
I mean after years of baking hallahs that could have doubled as free weights, it was no small thing to stumble upon this recipe. So Iâ€™m putting out the white flag, calling off my war. That is what Hashem wants anyway, Shalom between his children. From now on, Iâ€™m going to use these magazines for what they are good at – the recipes.
And as to that leftover piece of hallah sitting the platic bag. It ought to be yummy tomorrow morning toasted and, smeared with magarine. What could be wrong with that?
Originally Published on Jan, 14 2008